Baghdad botox surgery 'thriving'
Dr Abbas al-Sahan's Baghdad patient did not have a scar that needed cosmetic surgery - all she wanted was a cute nose, and she got it.
Speaking after the surgery, bandages and swelling gone, 23-year-old Sarah Saad Abdul-Hameed was ecstatic. Friends who visited "were surprised with the change in my face," she said. "They compared my nose to Nicole Kidman's."
Even in the worst spasms of violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion, cosmetic surgery did not go out of style. Now, as the country has quietened down, nose jobs, Botox and liposuction are all the rage.
Dr al-Sahan, one of Baghdad's premier plastic surgeons, said he averages about 20 cosmetic surgeries a week - 70% on women. During the height of the fighting, reconstructive surgery for the wounded made up the bulk of his practice, but now most of it is cosmetics unrelated to the war, he said.
Interest in plastic surgery has blossomed since the fall of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and the end of economic sanctions that isolated Iraqis from the influences and pop culture of the outside world. Also, doctors who fled the violence are trickling back.
But availability of cosmetic surgery is limited. Dr al-Sahan says fewer than half a dozen cosmetic surgeons operate in the country, and patients have to provide their own Botox or silicone.
Most of Baghdad's cosmetic surgeons play dual roles - they perform reconstructive surgery, mostly on war-wounded patients at government hospitals, and cosmetic surgeries at private hospitals.
The cosmetic surgeries tend to be their bigger earners because patients pay cash - around 600 dollars (£400) for a nose job. Breast augmentation costs 1,200 dollars (£800), and clients must import the silicone from abroad. Botox, injected to relax muscles and head off wrinkles, can be found in Iraqi pharmacies.
Demand cuts across all religious divides, but all the same, Iraq being an overwhelmingly Muslim country, some have inevitably sought guidance from the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most revered Shiite religious figure.
The verdict on his website? Hair implants are preferred over a wig, which can fall off during prayer. Liposuction to remove fat, and surgery to make breasts smaller or larger, are all right as long as female patients go to a woman doctor.