On a balmy winter afternoon, Hasanain Muala stepped out of his offices at the Baghdad Hunting Club to preside over a garden party. It was the anniversary of the club’s founding, and he was dressed for the occasion in a cream-colored blazer and natty blue-and-gold tie. As he strolled down the marble-floored corridor, he passed the massive wooden doors of the club’s members-only pub. Waiters nodded fawningly as they bustled past, dressed identically in white shirts and black vests.
Outside the club’s walls, the streets of Baghdad were virtually deserted, a bleak landscape of dun-colored houses and minarets. More than 200 people had been killed in the city over the previous week, mostly by suicide bombers. The few human figures out of doors moved hurriedly, the women cloaked in hijabs or full-length black abayas.
The contrast between that world and the scene before Muala — spread out on a vast lawn — could not have been more extreme. Hundreds of well-dressed people were gathered, some sitting at tables sipping whiskey or beer, others milling about in groups. Teenage girls wandered about in clusters, their hair uncovered, some wearing tight jeans or leopard-print outfits. In the back of the garden, a band played, and professional dancers in black outfits performed swooping gulf-style routines on an open-air stage. “Our boat of love came to Basra,” a singer wailed in Arabic, his voice mingling with the sweet smell of sheesha tobacco that drifted over the crowd.
more from Robert Worth at The NY Times Magazine here.