Along Baghdad street, a debate over limits of free expression

BAGHDAD — Yaser Adnan, who owns a bookstore on Baghdad's Mutanabi Street, got new regulations from Iraq's Ministry of Culture last July. Trucks full of his books now sit at Iraq's borders for two to three weeks while he runs the list of titles by the authorities and gets the multiple approvals he needs to import them.

Adnan isn't happy with the new restrictions, but he said he understood the need for vigilance. Books that foment sectarian strife deserve to be banned, he said. "The state should interfere to prevent such books."

Journalists, actors and artists decried what they said were creeping limits on freedom of expression, but with sectarian killings still common and emotions raw from years of warfare between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, some Iraqis along Mutanabi Street were ready to trade free speech for stability.

"Censorship is a good thing, although it decreases our work and our income," said Hassan Falih, who owns a bookbinding shop. "I'm against the freedom of expression that causes problems."

The touchiest topics, booksellers said, are religious and cultural ones, and the late dictator Saddam Hussein.

Adnan said he once came across a copy of Saddam's memoirs, but he didn't dare import it. "If I bring it . . . they will send me a bomb (in a) cake," he said.

Asked who "they" were, he replied: "Those who had been mentioned badly in the book."

(By Jenan Hussein and Warren P. Strobel)


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