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The new face of plastic surgery in Iraq

After a chaotic period helping victims of violence, plastic surgeons now find themselves ministering to a public interested in nose jobs.

July 12, 2009|Caesar Ahmed | Ahmed is in The Times' Baghdad Bureau. Times staff writer Liz Sly contributed to this report.

BAGHDAD — There was a time when Baghdad's reconstructive surgeons were rushed off their feet trying to repair the terrible disfigurements caused by war.

These days, they're just as likely to find themselves giving Botox injections or performing nose jobs, as Iraqis take advantage of the calmer conditions to enhance their looks.

"Definitely we are performing more plastic surgery than before, mainly because the security situation of the country has improved," said Rida Ali, a plastic surgeon who estimates that half her patients are seeking cosmetic surgery, compared with less than a quarter a few years ago.

They include men as well as women, and most of them want nose jobs, which cost $600 to $1,000 each. Among the women, breast surgery is also popular, Ali said, but not the augmentations common in the West.

"In Iraq we do more breast reduction than augmentation," she said. "Some of the breasts we reduce in size are huge . . . and they cause back pain."

The trend has been fueled largely by the arrival of satellite television, which since 2003 has beamed into Iraqi living rooms the glamorous Egyptian and Lebanese celebrities who are reputed to keep regular appointments with their cosmetic surgeons.

The results aren't always what the patient expected.

"Our patients get all their ideas from TV, then they come to us and request the operation," said Mahdi Hameed Abood, a senior surgeon at the Wasiti Center for Reconstructive Surgery. "It's good having television as a source of information, but what you see on TV is not always reality. There are special effects, lights. People believe what they see and come to us expecting results that may be unrealistic."

That wasn't the case for Zainab Hadi, 27, who recently had 8 pounds of fat removed from her thighs and abdomen -- "to improve my chances of marriage" -- and feels like a new woman.

"Before the surgery, I used to feel angry and sad when I looked at my body in the mirror, but now I just cannot believe the results," she said. "I feel proud and happy, and I advise every Iraqi woman to undergo plastic surgery."

Marriage prospects are a major reason cited by Iraqi women for choosing to go under the knife. During the worst years of the sectarian war, matches were put on hold, and now many women feel they have to make up for lost time.

Mulook Abuid Wihhab, 49, believes she found a husband because of the nose job she had 23 years ago, and she dreamed of a similar operation for her daughter Noor, 21, a business student at Baghdad University.

But until recently, most of the cosmetic surgeons either had fled the country or were too busy helping victims of bomb blasts. Six months ago, Noor had the operation, and her mother is delighted with the result.

"I always wanted to have plastic surgery for her, because I never liked the shape of her nose," she said. "We finally got the looks that we were promised, her nose looks fabulous, and she is proud of it.

"Maybe now she can follow in my footsteps and get married soon, just like I did."

For surgeons, the new business is a welcome break from the horrors they dealt with during the worst years of Iraq's violence. In 2006-07, when bombings were maiming scores on a daily basis, Abood spent days and nights on end at the hospital performing emergency skin grafts and amputations.

But the intense pressure provided a wealth of experience for Iraqi doctors, he said.

"I believe the Iraqi plastic surgeons are more talented than all the doctors in the region because of the hard circumstances they witnessed," Abood said. "Cosmetic operations are easy now for doctors after the training we obtained from treating the casualties of terrorism."

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