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Ancient Healing Technique Gains New Popularity in Iraq

Haidar al-Hajam carefully placed the glass jars over the slight incisions on his patient's back and then began to pump out the air. In the ensuing vacuum , the thick dark blood slowly oozed out of the cuts and into the clear containers.

"The Assyrians, the Chinese and the ancient Egyptians all used to practice cupping to draw out the corrupt blood," said Hajam as he deftly drained a few more spots on his patient's back in his office in Baghdad's Sadr City slum.

Murtada Abu Ali, 45, has become a regular for this ancient treatment known by its Arabic name of 'hijama', or sucking, and says it helps him in a way no modern medicine can.

"I got fed up with the painkillers doctors were prescribing for my neck ache, so I decided to use hijama and it's great -- I urge others to try it," he said. Increasingly Iraqis are following this advice and the ancient technique is finding renewed popularity in central and southern Iraq as people use it to cope with the stress of the country's unending bloodshed.

The idea behind cupping, which was promoted by ancient Greek physician Galen and medieval Islamic philosopher Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the West), is to stimulate the skin and muscles to release toxins and improve blood and lymph circulation. The process is also believed to stimulate the release of histamine-like substances in the skin which boosts the immune system.

The immediate result, however, is circular discoloration and bruising where the glass has been placed, but many testify that the process leaves them rejuvenated. The technique has long been used in the Arabian countries of the Gulf and traditionally sections of horn were used, with the vacuum caused either by the healer sucking out air or burning bits of cotton or paper to eliminate the oxygen.

Hajam's tools have progressed with the times, however, and are equipped with tiny pumps to remove the air and grip the skin. In add
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