The Islamic State group has revoked a smoking ban in the Iraqi province of Kirkuk in an effort to improve its image and battle growing popular disfavor.
Vendors in the region can now openly sell cigarettes without fear of prosecution, according to a report published Thursday by the Arabic-language Almada Press news agency.
The group’s image was heavily tarnished in the region following battles with Kurdish fighters in the area, its brutal treatment and executions of Iraqi soldiers and Western civilians.
The Middle East boasts some of the highest rates of smoking in the world, but smoking is considered “haram,” forbidden, according to some radical interpretations of Islam.
Abdulrahman al-Gabouri, a resident of Kirkuk province, told Almada Press that the Islamic State had confiscated cigarette stocks after the jihadist group conquered the region several months ago. Al-Gabouri stated that the group later destroyed the cigarettes by running over them with American-made military hummers appropriated from Iraqi security forces.
According to another resident in the province, Islamic State fighters warned shop owners several weeks ago that they would be lashed if they were caught selling cigarettes, in accordance with a fatwa issued by the group’s judicial authorities.