Artists become a target in Baghdad

Khada al-Tahy, a ballet teacher in Baghdad
CBS News

Over 80 people have been killed in a surge of sectarian violence since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December.

CBS News political correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that the insurgents are making no exception for a haven for the arts.

The Baghdad School for the Arts is a calm refuge from the busy, broken city all around. Outside at break time, students play the same games as kids all over the world, until the bell rings, and it's back to work.

The school offers a full academic program, with extra arts instructions for these talented students.

But Khada al-Tahy, now a ballet teacher in the same school where she was once a student, is worried. There may be order in the classroom - but not in Baghdad's streets.

"We don't respect the policemen. We don't respect the government. Nobody respect anything, to me, this is the worst thing in Baghdad," al-Tahy said, adding that she never feels safe.

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Some children are preparing for an end-of-semester concert. Some are in their final year. Some have a ways to go. All of them would like some kind of future in the arts.

That future is in doubt, however, after a series of threats against artists and intellectuals, including the cold-blooded shooting in September of the activist and writer Hadi al Mahdi, who helped organize regular Friday demonstrations for freedom of expression in central Baghdad.

There is no evidence to suggest that the intimidation is a policy or a campaign orchestrated by the government, but it has got artists - poets, musicians, writer and dancers - spooked.

Al-Tahy received her last death threat 2 years ago, but she's still nervous.

"I don't know what will happen to us, to the artists," al-Tahy said, adding that she believes religious fundamentalists influence the government.

Radical Islamists condemn many art forms, but this dance that celebrates human, and especially the female form is completely unacceptable.

At the entrance to the school, there's tight security. Visitors and parents are patted down and screened.

In most countries, critics attack the arts. Here, it's more likely to be terrorists.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."