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Evolution of Iraq's tattoo culture shows impact of US legacy

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By Sinead Barry  with Reuters
Evolution of Iraq's tattoo culture shows impact of US legacy
Copyright  REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

Tattoos, which are permanent by nature, are a fitting example of the unchangeable legacy that the U.S-led invasion left in Iraq.

Prior to the war, aesthetic lines and traditional emblems adorned the skin of many Iraqis. These shapes and designs were drawn with simple resources, like pins and sewing needles, using ash or soot for ink.

As the death toll mounted during the war that followed the US's invasion, many Iraqis began using tattoos for more distressing purposes. Citizens would tattoo their names onto their bodies so that their corpses would be identifiable should they be killed.

Permanent tattoos are considered Haram (forbidden) under Islamic law but many decided to breach the rule so their families would know what had happened to them if they died.

Tattoos also became a way for injured Iraqis to cover unwanted scarring from wounds or surgery.

The presence of the US military also played a part in transforming the tattoo culture in Iraq. Local craftsmen and barbers communicated with US forces during their occupation and drew on their experiences of tattoo culture to evolve the art in Iraq.

From this, new kinds of colours, tools and techniques began to seep into Iraq's tattoo scene, reinventing the traditional form.

Today, some sixteen years after the invasion, young Iraqis are getting tattoo inspiration from American pop culture. Many young people in Baghdad and beyond are adorned with images of US actors, rappers and international soccer players, showing that the US legacy in Iraq still permeates its culture.