Iraqi prostitutes back on the streets after Saddam BAGHDAD, April 29 (Reuters) - Um Jenan used to wear gold jewellery, tight jeans and see-through blouses to attract VIP clients to her apartment in Baghdad -- until the masked men in black packed her into a minibus and drove her away. When they laid out her body in front of her home the next day, she was dressed in loose-fitting sweat pants and a T-shirt. A banner on the wall above said "God is greatest!." Beside her lay her severed head. "I couldn't stop looking at her," said Ali Waad, who was 11 when Um Jenan was murdered by a death squad loyal to Saddam Hussein in 1999. "Other boys burst out crying, but I just stood there staring at the head." Such was the brutal justice meted out to prostitutes under the rule of Saddam, driving the world's oldest profession deep underground in recent years. But since U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam three weeks ago, Baghdad's sex workers have slowly crept back to the capital's bombed-out streets. Prostitutes face new dangers in a city ravaged by looting and lawlessness, but most are keen to take advantage of the power vacuum until a new government is established and religious leaders clamp down on their trade. In a country where many women dress all in black and most wear headdresses, high-buttoned loose blouses and long skirts, heavily made-up streetwalkers stand out on the kerbside. They open their shawls to reveal tight trousers and bright-coloured tops for drivers passing slowly by. "They are all over the place now -- I see them everywhere," said Ahmed Sabri, a taxi driver. "I could always spot them before, but now it's so obvious. They are not afraid and do it far more openly." ARBITRARY JUSTICE Prostitution flourished in Iraq in the 1990s as U.N. sanctions, imposed after Saddam's troops invaded Kuwait in 1990, brought economic hardship, forcing many women to offer their bodies for cash -- a trade abhorred by devout Muslims. Government officials in BMWs and Mercedes, with pistols strapped to their waists, used to come to see Um Jenan and about 30 other prostitutes in the drab "Saddam Complex" of sand-coloured apartment blocks where they lived. Shop owner Wisam Mohammed remembers seeing Um Jenan, who was in her 40s, dressed in revealing outfits, buying cigarettes, make-up and perfume in his general supplies store. Then one day in 1999, the group of men dressed in black with their faces covered took Jenan away and decapitated her. After that, the slick cars stopped coming to the "Saddam Complex" and the prostitutes quietly moved away. Baghdad residents say such gruesome punishments were meted out on prostitutes across the capital that year in a sudden crackdown on an illegal trade that had been tacitly tolerated by Saddam's secular government. Media restrictions meant Iraqis heard about the executions only by word of mouth, and estimates vary on how many people were killed -- from dozens to hundreds. Still, most agree on the cause of the crackdown -- foreign pornographic videos of Iraqi prostitutes wrapped in the black, white and red national flag, and, according to many versions, dancing on a portrait of Saddam. The insult sparked the attacks by Saddam's Fedayeen loyalist militia on prostitutes, pimps and particularly anyone suspected of selling girls abroad. "DANGEROUS WORK" Baghdad's prostitutes no longer fear attacks from the Fedayeen. But the city is fraught with new dangers. One woman, who was repeatedly approached by drivers as she stood by a major Baghdad thoroughfare -- ostensibly selling soft drinks -- said a friend was killed by a client the night before. With chipped black nail varnish, faded pink lipstick and missing teeth, the woman, who gave her name as Mawah and her age as 20, said prostitutes were terrified just before the war because of rumours there would be a fresh beheading spree. "It's great that Saddam has gone because we no longer live in fear," she said. "But it's dangerous work. There's no control and everybody has got guns -- even the boys." Across the street there is more evidence sexual repression left the city with Saddam's fall -- business is brisk at the Atlas cinema that no longer shows censored films with even the kissing edited out. The dingy cinema has two posters touting soft-porn movies. One pre-war film, "Miranda," has the low-cut blouse of the star blacked out but alongside it this week's release advertises a blonde in black suspenders and bra writhing on a bed. Amar Adnan, the cinema manager, shows off the "Blue Chill" poster with a wide grin. "This is freedom. It's so wonderful they kicked Saddam out," he said. U.S. soldiers who man checkpoints and guard government buildings sitting on tanks say men approach them to offer cigarettes, Pepsi Cola, gum -- and frequently prostitutes. "We have orders not to buy anything from the Iraqis. And hookers -- that's a big no-no," U.S. Private Hassan Seyhun said. Shopkeeper Mohammed is also not buying. He worries the sudden resurgence of prostitution will spread through the city and stain the reputation of his quiet neighbourhood again. "When I saw Um Jenan's body lying on the pavement, I felt no pity at all," he said. "That's what should be done with them."