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Work out in war-torn Baghdad

07-01-2011 16:50 BJT

BAGHDAD, July 1 (Xinhua) -- It's almost a luxury to sweat in arid Baghdad as sweats evaporate within seconds in the scorching heat. It's even more than a luxury to sweat at Saddam Jasim's fancy gym where steaming men with bulgy muscles are pumping iron.

The violence-plagued capital now houses around 200 gyms and fitness centers like Jasim's. In every district, you can find at least four or five decent gyms in fairly good conditions, air-conditioned and well-equipped.

Under Saddam's reign, modern gyms were rare and only available to athletes and the upper echelon. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, scores of gyms sprouted around Baghdad, offering ordinary Iraqis the privilege to sweat so long as they pay.

Saddam Jasim, the gym owner, told Xinhua that "The gyms before were not well-prepared like this. There used to be no electricity, no suitable floor, and no new equipments. There was no practicing at night due to power cut."

Most weights were locally made with bad quality, said the owner, adding that people can't work out in summer because there were no air-conditioners.

"Now the gyms are well equipped and good for practicing. Now we have modern machines and tools," said Jasim.

Coming with the gym is an all-too-visible influence of American culture. Inside the gym young men were watching bodybuilding training videos and hearing rap music, both imports from the United States.

Most Iraqis come to the gym to get in shape and to become bulky and hunky like Hollywood action movie stars. Some come here to relieve stress, which can be acutely felt after a hair-raising ride on Baghdad's crowded road strewn with checkpoints and barbed wires.

For a few Iraqis, pumping iron is more than a sport. They expect to be hired as guards by private security firms as the demand for security personnel is huge.

Iraq's unemployment rate among young people under the age of 24, according to a latest survey by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, stands at 30 percent. And some say it's just an underestimation.

The chances for a young man to get a decent job are slim. Many young men just don't have a better choice and end up with such dangerous and well-paid jobs as bodyguards.

Ameer Mohammed, a bodybuilding athlete, told Xinhua that "some like to wear tight T-shirts to show the fitness of his muscle or to get a job as a body guard."

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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