Cosmetic Surgery Gaining Popularity in Iraq

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 4 2008 11:43 AM

 Cosmetic Surgery Gaining Popularity in Iraq
Iraqi plastic surgeon Haider remembers only too well when most of his patients were disfigured victims of bomb blasts and suicide bombers. Now clients just want to be made beautiful.
Haider, 41, whose full name is being withheld because doctors are targets of assassination attempts in Iraq, has worked since the start of the 2003 US-led invasion to repair people's shattered or burned extremities.

"I still remember that little girl who had part of her face and neck burned after mortars hit her home. She had serious burn marks and she came to me to have a plastic surgery in the summer of 2005," Haider told AFP in an interview.

The work frays his nerves but Haider said he feels that reconstructive procedures serve a real medical purpose -- unlike the growing trend in Iraq to fix noses, lift buttocks and enlarge breasts.

"It's contradictory to go to work every day and receive two kinds of patients. One group is forced to have surgery because of what happened, and the other come to fulfil their desires by having surgery," Haider said.

"In my opinion the person who wants plastic surgery to beautify himself doesn't need a plastic surgeon but a psychiatrist so that he can gain self-confidence and accept his looks."

Haider's views are not uncommon in conservative Iraq, where cosmetic surgery, while not condemned by the country's most revered Islamic cleric, must adhere to religious law.

Accordingly, doctors must not set eyes on the "forbidden" parts of the female anatomy -- breasts, legs and stomach -- a tricky restriction when it comes to performing liposuction or breast enlargement.

Most doctors simply ignore the regulations.

But the growing popularity of cosmetic surgery in Iraq comes not only against a background of improved security in the country, but also a revival of more orthodox Islam.

Since the execution of secularist dictator Saddam Hussein, women's fashion has taken a sharply conservative Islamic twist with women generally being forced to cover their bodies, and even donning a hijab or headscarf in public.

But like many doctors in Iraq, Haider believes that plastic surgery should be governed by the Hippocratic oath rather than religious edict.

"It's my work, I should try to help people, to try to give them confidence. If I feel my words cannot help then I will do the surgery," he said.

Another doctor, Tariq al-Hamdani, said a person's desire should be the deciding factor in cosmetic surgery -- but within limits.

"Sometimes I don't go through with the surgery if it is not important, like enlarging the lips, or the breasts," said the doctor who estimates that 75 percent of his plastic surgery patients are women.

That didn't stop Nadia Kadhom, a 45-year-old mother of two, from paying 1,900 dollars (1,300 euros) for liposuction on her belly and the augmentation of her buttocks in the hope that it will make her look "more like Beyonce," the full-figured American R'n'B singer.

"I had the surgery to satisfy myself and to have confidence in myself. I want to keep my youthfulness to feel happy," said Kadhom, adding she had the full support of her husband.

But because more groups such as that of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr now advocate a stricter interpretation of Islam, women like Kadhom are unlikely to be able to show their new figures in public.

For college graduate Rula Hameed, the new conservatism is infuriating.

"We were more free during Saddam's time," said Hameed, 23, who recently had a nose job that she described as making her feel more beautiful.

"I was able to go outside and show off my looks and everyone could see me, but now things have been changed because the militias and the Islamists force women to wear hijab.

"I know many girls who are not allowed to go outside because they are beautiful and their parents even stop them from going to college too," Hameed said.

"I know some of the religious men may be against the idea of having plastic surgery, but I don't think it is sinful to have surgery to get rid of something that is really bothering you," she said.

And it's not only women who want to make themselves more attractive.

Mustafa Abbas, a computer engineer said he had surgery on his overly-large nose -- not only to fix his blocked nasal passages but also to improve his chances with the girls.

"I wanted to do it, because I know it made the girls reject me," said Abbas, 27. "I had the surgery as a way to change the difficulties of life...

"I want to start my new life, meet a girl and then get married. Now I can."


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