Iraq: Cradle of Civilization and Centuries of Cockfighting

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“Cockfighting is an Individual Liberty.
Cockfighting is a personal decision. Not a legal debate.”

– Gameness til the End

Cockfighting in Erbil, Iraq

Daniel C. Britt

A cockfight is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), held in a ring called a cockpit. Cockfighting is now illegal throughout most the United States, Brazil and in most of Europe, yet legal in Iraq. Erbil, Iraq. 01/09/2010

Gambling in Iraq is legal. One casino is available, and horse racing is very popular. A great deal of money changes hands during cock and dog fighting matches. However due to the instability in the region, these activities are normally only enjoyed by the local residents. No state lottery is available.

Cockfighting was allowed under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but the police would sometimes crack down on the activity or demand bribes. These days, the event is more popular than ever with 3-4 shows on per week.

The combatants, aptly referred to as gamecocks, are specially bred birds, conditioned for increased stamina and strength. The comb and wattle are cut off in order to meet show standards of the American Gamefowl Society and the Old English Game Club and to prevent freezing in colder climates. Cocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species. Cocks are given the best of care until near the age of two years old. They are conditioned, much like professional athletes prior to events or shows. Wagers are often made on the outcome of the match. While not all fights are to the death, the cocks do endure physical trauma that may result in death. Cockfighting was at one time considered to be an accepted, traditional sporting event in the United States. In many other areas around the world, cockfighting is still practiced as a mainstream event; in some countries it is government controlled.

While cockfighting is considered a heinous blood sport by animal welfare and animal rights activists and others, due in some part to the physical trauma the cocks inflict on each other, advocates of the sport often list cultural and religious relevance as reasons for perpetuation of cockfighting as a sport.

The activity of cockfighting has been enjoyed in Iraq for centuries. Many fighting birds are imported from places like Turkey, Jordan, Thailand and Syria. Depending on the location, fights might take place every night or just once a week. For example, Nuri Rahima Shwan’s teahouse in the city of Sulaimaniyah conducts fights every Friday from 10am until 2pm. Cost of admission to his matches costs 500 dinar (or 35 US cents). Sometimes bets will get up to as high as 20 dollars for a particularly promising bird.

In 2003, American radio personality Paul Harvey was forced to issue an on-air apology after commenting on cockfighting in Iraq. In addition to his disgust for the sport, he also added that Islam encourages killing. This drew outrage for Muslim listeners, and Harvey’s sponsors were bombarded with complaints.

These images are from Sulaymaniyah. bets range from a few dollars to thousands and are placed on each bird. Some roosters that have proven themselves after a few weeks can sell for thousands. On Friday nights, arenas like this are packed with hundreds of bettors. Birds fight to the death or until the owner pulls it from the ring to spare it.

Islam prohibits murder, cruelty to animals and gambling.




poultry gamefowl chicken gamecock

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