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Americans' lasting mark on Iraq: colorful, complex tattoos

Popular designs include tigers, dragons, and swords, although overt displays of the body art remain somewhat taboo.

Drawing attention: More Iraqis now sport Western tattoos but still avoid public displays.

Tom a. Peter

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Before US troops rolled into Iraq, Robert Eagle, an Iraqi, had seen his fair share of tattoos. There were lots of traditional Bedouin designs – simple patterns of lines and dots – and prisoners who scrawled loved ones' names using ink and a sewing needle, but nothing more complicated than this.

"These were terrible tattoos," says Mr. Eagle, who goes by the English translation of his name.

It wasn't until US forces arrived and Eagle began working alongside American and British security contractors inked with dragons, Chinese characters, and a host of other designs that he realized there existed a world of unexplored potential. Within months, he'd gotten a colorful eagle with flaming wings on his arm, the first of several tattoos.

Nearly six years into the Iraq war, the American presence has literally left its mark on the Iraqi people. Tattoos are among a number of Western trends that have crept into society here. Although US and British soldiers are largely responsible for introducing them to Iraqis, a number of refugees who spent time in more open Arab countries are helping to spread their popularity, despite legal and religious issues surrounding them.

"Before the war, no one knew about the cultures from outside, but now so many people know about Western culture," says Kawakeb Salah Hamed, a sociology professor at Baghdad University. "Now, young people like to do almost anything they see in Western culture."

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