NAJAF - Councillors in Iraq's most revered holy Shiite city of Najaf on Saturday banned the sale and consumption of alcohol throughout the province, saying its use was incompatible with Islam.
"Due to the specific character of Najaf as a holy city, the provincial council decided unanimously to ban the drinking, selling and transit of alcohol of any kind, regardless of quantity," said a statement confirming the decision with immediate effect.
"Those who contravene the law will be referred to the courts," it said, adding advertising of alcoholic goods was also being banned under the law which will apply in Najaf city and all areas of the eponymous province.
Najaf, located 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of Baghdad, is home to the mausoleum of Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, and which attracts Shiites from around the world, particularly neighbouring Iran.
However, there is a known culture of secret late-night drinking in the city, which its political leaders want to clamp down on.
Although alcohol is considered contrary to strict Islam, it is sold openly from shops in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
The Najaf provincial council's decision follows an alcohol ban in the Shiite port city of Basra in August, which triggered concerns about the role of religion in people's private lives.
Basra deputy governor Ahmad al-Sulaiti said the law was implemented because Iraq's constitution "bans anything that violates the principles of Islam," the state religion and "fundamental source of legislation."
However the move raised concerns among alcohol vendors in Basra's shrinking Christian community that they would be targeted if they refused to close their shops.