Iraqi singers, actors and artists are fleeing the country after dozens have been killed by Islamic radicals determined to eradicate all culture associated with the West. Cinemas, art galleries, theatres, and concert halls are being destroyed in grenade and mortar attacks in Basra and Baghdad.
According to the Iraqi Artists' Association, at least 115 singers and 65 actors have been killed since the US-led invasion, as well as 60 painters. But the terror campaign has escalated in recent months as both Shia and Sunni extremists grow ever bolder in enforcing religious restrictions on the citizens of Iraq. Those remaining are in hiding as they make preparations to get themselves and their families to safety.
Haydar Labbeb, 35, a painter in Baghdad, said he had received five death threats and an attempt was made on his life as he drove his family home from a wedding. He is now trying to get to Amman in Jordan, where he hopes to continue painting.
'My art is seen by extremists as too modern and offensive to Islamic beliefs,' he said. 'For them, every painting has to be based on Islamic culture. But I am a modern artist. Life for artists in Iraq has turned into hell. We have been forced to stay in our homes and to stop working. I don't remember the last time I saw an exhibition, or a singer at a club, or an actor at a local theatre. All of us have been prohibited from working as a result of the killings.'
The Iraqi Ministry of Culture estimates that about 80 per cent of singers and other artists have now fled. In November Seif Yehia, 23, was beheaded for singing western songs at weddings, and painter Ibraheem Sadoon was shot dead as he drove through Baghdad. In February Sunni fighters killed Waleed Dahi, 27, a young actor, while he rehearsed for a play due to open at the Jordanian National Theatre this month.
Culture was encouraged during Saddam's regime, but no longer. Abu Nur, an Islamic Army spokesman, said: 'Acting, theatre and television encourage bad behaviour and irreligious attitudes. They promote customs that affect the morality of our traditional society.'