February 15, 2004: Terrorists attack alcohol vendors in Iraq

On this day in 2004 in Basra, Iraq masked men leaped out of two pickup trucks and unloaded their Kalashnikov rifles at a group of sidewalk alcohol vendors

BASRA, IRAQ – We all have things with which we disagree: that does not give anyone the right to kill over it.

As humans we exhibit a startling array of habits, some good and some bad. Take physical fitness. Normally a good thing, it can lead to obsessive behaviours that become counterintuitively unhealthy.

Or eating. There is a good amount which we should abide by to stay alive. Some overeat, leading to life-threatening problems. Others eat far too less, leading to life-threatening problems. Same with sleep: there is the cardinal rule of eight hours with many on either side of that standard.

Which brings us to drinking – alcohol that is (I don’t think anyone has a problem with imbibing water!). The consumption of fermented stuff (grains, fruit, etc.) has been going on for thousands of years. Overdoing it leads to alcoholism, itself a serious health hazard.

When it comes to religion there is a strange mix of beliefs. In Christianity the use of alcohol in the form of wine is a central part of the faith (Jesus’ lasts supper and all that). In Islam, all alcohol is forbidden.

Then there are occasions on which a group decides that as it does not allow booze, neither should anyone else. Those who don’t catch on are killed.

On this day in 2004

In Basra, Iraq masked men leaped out of two pickup trucks and unloaded their Kalashnikov rifles at a group of sidewalk alcohol vendors, killing five and wounding two. The attack on a bustling Old Basra Street was the latest and deadliest in a string of assaults on alcohol salesmen in a city where conservative Shiite movements and political parties sought dominance.

I heard a lot of gunfire, a huge barrage of bullets. It sounded like a gun battle between the alcohol sellers and the attackers. I found the dead bodies. There were bullet holes in their bodies, about five bullets in each body.


Police officers said that the attackers were wearing police uniforms and pulled up in two police trucks, raising questions of whether the police were working with the religious groups to impose Shariah law on the city.

Earlier attacks drove owners of liquor stores, both Muslim and Christian, to shut their shops and take their businesses underground. In other words, the actions of a few extremists interfered with legitimate trade. Once again, the terrorists won, even if it was a Pyrrhic victory.

Read More Today in Terrorism

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

2 replies on “February 15, 2004: Terrorists attack alcohol vendors in Iraq”

Although I am a published historian and read widely, still I consider myself just an “armchair student’ of extremism and terrorism. I am guessing, therefore, that ideological (religious etc) extremism would be the most difficult with which to deal. My second thought is that we do have religious extremism in Canada and here I refer to certain Christian Churches. Any thoughts? John Carrick Greene, Ottawa

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