(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Fewer tattoos as identity marks

Tattoos are becoming increasingly common in Iraq as people seek ways in which their bodies might be identified if they are killed and disfigured.
Abu Malik/IRIN

Despite a recent spike in violence across Iraq coinciding with the withdrawal of US soldiers from urban areas, the days when young men got tattoos done for identity purposes in anticipation of a grisly death seem to be over.



“Few people were interested in getting a tattoo for the look of it during 2005, 2006 and 2007 as their aim was only to put a mark on themselves to help their families identify their bodies if they were found mutilated,” Abdu, a Baghdad tattoo artist, told IRIN on condition that his full name not be mentioned for his safety.



Today, Abdu said few men come to him for that reason while many youngsters are seeking tattoos for purely decorative reasons. He said he charges US$10 to $200 for all kinds of artwork, such as images of dragons, snakes, tigers, hawks and hearts.



However, Abdu continues to keep a low profile for fear of being attacked by extremists who see his work as being prohibited by Islam or too westernised.



“Turnout is high, but our work is still limited to close friends and people we trust,” said Abdu, a 28-year-old Christian who learnt his art as a refugee in Lebanon when he fled there in 2004. On his return to Iraq, he decided against opening his own tattoo studio and instead operates out of a friend’s tailoring shop.



Spate of violence



According to Iraqi Interior Ministry figures, about 450 Iraqi civilians were killed in June - double the toll from the previous month as insurgents carried out a series of bombings in markets, mosques and crowded public areas.



The deadliest attack was on 20 June when a truck bomb killed 82 people near a Shia mosque in Kirkuk province, about 300 km north of Baghdad.



The recent spate of in violence has raised concerns about Iraqi forces’ ability to maintain security following the 30 June withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraqi cities to outlying bases, part of a planned pullout by all American forces by the end of 2011.



Iraqi officials and security analysts predict that militants will continue committing violent attacks to embarrass Iraqi government and security forces, particularly as the country approaches its 30 January national elections.



“The conflicts between different ideologies and among political rivals for power are still running high in the country,” Saad Kamal Ali, a Baghdad-based security analyst with 30 year services in the former Iraqi army, said. “So only when all such things are resolved will everything calm down.”



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