A shopkeeper arranges bottles in a shop in the Zayouna area of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on May 15, 2013
A shopkeeper arranges bottles in a shop in the Zayouna area of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on May 15, 2013. Alcohol vendors in Baghdad were worried for their safety on Wednesday, a day after unknown gunmen shot dead 12 people at a humble row of shops selling beer and liquor. © Khalil al-Murshidi - AFP
A shopkeeper arranges bottles in a shop in the Zayouna area of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on May 15, 2013
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W.G. Dunlop, AFP
Last updated: May 15, 2013

Deadly attack adds to Iraqi alcohol sellers' fears

Alcohol vendors in Baghdad were worried for their safety on Wednesday, a day after unknown gunmen shot dead 12 people at a humble row of shops selling beer and liquor.

"I am afraid; how can I not be afraid?" said Khodaida Murad Khidr, who works in an alcohol shop in central Baghdad and said his cousin was one of those killed in the attack in the capital's Zayouna district.

"My son works with me; I sent him back home this morning. I told him, 'why are both of us staying here?'" said Khidr, standing in the small shop with neat rows of whisky and other liquor lining the shelves.

Abu Zina, who works at another alcohol shop in central Baghdad, was also worried about being targeted.

"Every day, we are careful; we are afraid," Abu Zina said.

"We ask God for security, and we request the government to take care of security, because it is its job, not the citizens' job," he said.

"At any minute, you may be threatened and targeted, at any minute you may be hit and wounded, and maybe you live, or die, despite having a family and children," Abu Zina said.

The shop where he works has metal bars from the countertop to the ceiling, separating employees from those who might threaten them.

It also has security cameras to watch for attackers, and a Kalashnikov assault rifle resting near the counter.

On Tuesday, gunmen whose weapons were fitted with silencers, arrived in four vehicles, restrained police at a nearby checkpoint and began shooting at people at a row of shops in Zayouna, an interior ministry official said.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the murders, nor have the authorities announced any suspects, but numerous liquor stores have been attacked by Islamic fundamentalists since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.

The stores are an attractive target for fundamentalists because Islam forbids alcohol, and are made more so because they are often staffed by religious minorities such as Yazidis and Christians.

Commenting on the attacks, Khidr said if the politicians want Iraq to be an Islamic state, they should declare it one.

"If they say the state is Islamic, then we will leave this job and go to another," Khidr said.

For now, the colourfully painted metal doors of the row of alcohol shops where the Tuesday attack took place are tightly shut.

Outside, a large cooler, tables and a pile of empty whiskey and beer cases were clustered around a tree.

And a strip of yellow and black crime-scene tape hung from a bench in front of the shops in the Zayouna area, but there were no other signs that a dozen people had been murdered.

Violence has fallen in Iraq from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common, and more than 200 people were killed in each of the first four months of this year.

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