More cosmetic surgery in Iraq after drop in violence

By Jim Muir
BBC News, Baghdad

Image caption, Dr Abbas al-Sihn has seen the demand for cosmetic surgery increase since violence has dropped

Over the years of upheavals in Iraq, plastic surgeons have gained huge experience and skills in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery to help rehabilitate many thousands of people wounded by bombs or bullets.

But now that general levels of violence have dropped sharply, they are facing a huge upsurge in demand for more conventional forms of cosmetic surgery.

Every day, the clinic of Dr Abbas al-Sihn in the relatively prosperous suburb of Mansour is besieged by scores of patients eagerly waiting their turn to apply for elective aesthetic procedures which they hope will improve their looks and perhaps their lives.

Dr Sihn says that demand has risen by about 50% over the past year alone.

By far the most popular operation is rhinoplasty - reshaping the nose. He has performed around 1,400 such operations in recent years.

"I'm currently doing about 50 operations a week, but that number will go up sharply in the summer, when students are on holiday," he said.

War injuries

His clinic is crowded with men and women, old and young, and even children.

Some have congenital deformities or war injuries. But many here are simply seeking to improve their looks.

Sara Mohammad, 24, is one of the hundreds of young women whose noses Dr Sihn has remodelled.

She had the operation a month ago, and has come back just for a check-up.

"I'm happy because my look is better than before, and I feel better about myself," she says. "When I see myself in the mirror, I smile."

Sara broke her nose when she was young, and had to wait till she was over 18 to have corrective surgery.

Magazine girls

But many others going in for the operation have nothing noticeably "wrong" with their noses.

Image caption, An operation could be the route to a quicker marriage, people say

"Especially the females, teenagers, they want to be like in the movies, like magazine girls," says Dr Sihn.

"The majority of girls think when they are getting surgery for the nose, for the face or for the eyes, that they will become more attractive and get married earlier."

He puts the sharp upsurge in demand for cosmetic surgery down to a combination of factors.

The improved security situation is clearly basic, accompanied by a bettering of economic conditions.

"When there's peace, there's life - because of peace, they want to live more," says Dr Sihn.

"From magazines, television and the internet, there's also much more information available about cosmetic surgery now, so they know it only takes half an hour, is not too expensive, and recovery time is a week to 10 days."

Take the plunge

For a typical nose job, involving internal intervention to straighten cartilage and external beautification (septoplasty and rhinoplasty) the charge is around $700.

Image caption, Haifa says she is a lot happier since her operation

At the hospital where Dr Sihn performs his operations, I met Haifa Shahin, a 38-year-old librarian, as she nervously awaited her turn on the operating table for exactly that procedure..

She had been thinking about straightening her nose for the past two years, and finally decided to take the plunge - with some trepidation.

"When the doctor called me and told me to come in, my heart started thumping and I was shaking all over - I hate hospitals and operations," she said.

A general anaesthetic and about 20 minutes' surgery later, it was all over.

Her voice muffled and nasal from the bandages swathing her nose and face, Haifa said that when she came round she felt pain all over, then just in the head.

"But I'm happy," she said. "God be praised, it's over!"

'Prettier now'

Two months after the operation, laughing and joking with friends, Haifa appeared to be enjoying life with her new nose.

A little residual bruising above the cheekbones were the only traces of the operation, and they would soon fade.

"The pain was bearable, it didn't cost too much and I'm happy with the result," she said.

"But the only thing that's changed is my nose. It's prettier now. That's all I wanted."

Haifa won't be taking up any of the other options on offer for cosmetic "improvement".

But back at Dr Sihn's clinic, scores of impatient applicants were jostling for their turn to go under the scalpel.