Flesh-eating rumours hit Iraq fish sales hard

Iraqi fishmongers complained on Monday that rumours of river carp eating human flesh had caused sales to plummet, even though senior clerics denied reports they had banned the fish from the table.

Iraqi television and some newspapers claimed at the weekend that Islamic clerics had issued a fatwa or religious ruling declaring that fish from the River Tigris were forbidden as they could have eaten victims of Iraq’s civil war.

But on Monday, spokespersons for the highest religious councils of both the Shi’ite and Sunni branches of the Muslim faith said that no such order had been issued.

Nevertheless, fishmongers and restaurateurs said sales of river fish, already suffering from the effects of Baghdad’s violent economic and social collapse, had fallen still further since the rumours surfaced.

”We are still selling farmed fish, but demand for river fish has dropped,” said Said Yasir Hussein, who has a stall on Abu Nawas Street, a riverfront district once famed for its fish restaurants and outdoor grills.

Baghdad and much of central Iraq is in the grip of a series of overlapping conflicts, and over the past four years the bodies of hundreds of victims of the city’s various death squads and militias have been dumped in the Tigris.

This alone might have put many diners off their carp, which in Baghdad is usually smoked over a wood fire and served as masgouf, but talk that river fish were no longer halal or religiously approved had also hit sales.

In addition, the dangers of everyday life in a war zone have taken a huge bite out of the market, driving diners from Abu Nawas’s failing restaurants and cutting off fishermen from their customers.

”Fish are sold in Samarra at around half their price in Baghdad, but the road is too dangerous for us to bring them into town,” complained Hussein.

Said Ammar, a 22-year-old who runs a fish stand, said he only sells carp from fish farms, but has nevertheless lost a lot of customers. ”I like to have fish at least once a week regardless of its type. I do not believe the rumours about non-halal fish, and we cannot know what fish eat anywhere in the world, they are the same,” he said. — Sapa-AFP

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