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Horseracing, Gambling Returns to Iraq

19 January 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq – As reported by the Boston Globe: "When the fourth race at the Baghdad Equestrian Club got underway, No. 1, a big-boned gray named Fawal, was heavily favored to win. But No. 6, the muscular, chocolate-colored Burhana, pulled ahead at the final turn, maintained his lead, and finished first by a neck.

"The all-male crowd of gamblers in the stands recently, most of them scruffy, booed and grumbled as they watched the instant replay. But for once, few doubted that the contest had been fair, and neither Fawal's jockey nor his trainer had to fear being jailed and beaten for the costly upset.

"Former president Saddam Hussein's son Uday 'used to run this club, and his horses had to win, or the jockey would be punished. One was beaten and kicked to death right in front of the stands,' said Raad Samir, 32, a businessman who owns several race horses.

"…Thoroughbred racing, once a part of Iraq's proud desert heritage and more recently a victim of its self-indulgent dictatorship, has made a rapid comeback since Hussein was toppled in April. Track officials say races started up again only 10 days after bombs stopped falling on Baghdad, and the sport has steadily regained popularity ever since.

"One undeniable appeal is gambling, which was banned during Hussein's rule but has become an aboveboard pastime and a source of income for some of the thousands of men who lost their jobs in the economic and political dislocations of recent months…"

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