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Baghdad vendors seek shelter in neighborhoods
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09:29, December 22, 2008

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When life endangered and business hardly survived, Hassan left his shop in a battlefield in western Baghdad and built a small shop inside the garden of his own house in the Khadraa residential neighborhood.

"Few months ago, security forces built in front of my shop a three-meter high wall that separated my business from the main streets, and I could hardly sell anything thereafter," says Hussam Hassan, a 53-year-old vendor of the Ameriya neighborhood.

Despite both U.S. and Iraqi forces have claimed a relative security gain in general since last year, small vendors in the war-torn country are facing an ever-harder time since violence and sectarian strife are still prevalent after more than five years since the U.S.-led invasion.


Chaos and violence caused by daily killings and sectarian strife in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, have forced many vendors to change the course of their work for survival.

Most shop owners however, moved into neighborhoods from the main streets facing other neighborhoods and highways, where they became easy targets for militias and their business strangled due to turbulence.

"I was obliged to leave my place on the main street after I received several letters of death threat and a corpse of a dead man in front of my store, let alone frequent shootouts between insurgents with U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces," said Adnanal-Masraf, a stylish store owner.

"I am now running a small shop inside my neighborhood which is not so lucrative but it is just like an attempt to survive for a period of time," said al-Masraf, recalling those past days when bullets from time to time flew into walls of his store on a main street in Khadraa district.

Hassan explains to Xinhua that being inside neighborhoods, "especially where you live could be so safe for you, as people around could protect you."

Hassan's opinion echoes that of Tahssin al-Somaidaie, a shop owner selling women clothes in Khadraa district.

"I used to have a shop for women clothes in the commercial area of Karradah, but I found it better for me to move to my neighborhood for safety, although business here is far worse than what used to be," she said.


Hassan is quite satisfied with his new business model, which as he describes, goes with the tide of security situation shifts, and thus enjoys a popularity of his neighborhood.

"People would only buy from shops inside their neighborhoods, since it is hard for them to go to commercial centers in central Baghdad and elsewhere," he said joyfully, referring to security walls separating neighborhoods and countless checkpoints that make shopping outside a real suffering, let alone expensive transportation.

Dense checkpoints and closed roads throughout Baghdad are widely seen as means to prevent innocent citizens from explosions and shootouts, but they also, to a great extent, discounted Iraqis daily life out.

For fear of sectarian killings, Muthanna Talib, a 36-year-old stall vendor left her stall in Shorjah, a main commercial area in central Baghdad. She now is very happy with her new shop in her neighborhood in Ghazaliya district in western Baghdad.

"Selling in my neighborhood is easier for me, because my house is near and it is easier to build friendship with customers as many of them are neighbors and my school mates," she said.

Salam Mahmloud, an Iraqi social research specialist, told Xinhua that Baghdad neighborhoods developed naturally a self-reliance mechanism, in which "vendors could work in their neighborhoods for fear of sectarian strife and chaos, while residents would not be obliged to go to commercial areas in the war-shattered capital."

Um Samir, a 43-year-old female teacher, praised shops in her neighborhood as she and her colleagues in the school usually buy their daily stuff there.

Apart from those, some car-repair workshops in the neighborhood solved problems of Ahmed Zaidan, 47, a lawyer living in Jamia district in western Baghdad.

He said, "such new professions in our district solved our problems during the days of sectarian violence. For example, I couldn't fix my car because I used to fix it either in industrial areas of Kadhimiyah in northern Baghdad or Baiyaa in southwestern of the capital, but the two areas are controlled by Shiite militias now."


While being convenient, Zaidan believes car-repair workshops in his neighborhood "simply pollute the environment and are actually against the law."

However, such a solution seems to be a helpless compromise given the current occasional sectarian violence and explosions.

At the same time, rare jobs also appeared during long years of insecurity in Baghdad when some people brought sheep and cows into their neighborhoods, where they sell and butcher livestock illegally.

Like in many other neighborhoods of the city, Camp Sarah of eastern Baghdad see part of the neighborhood become a livestock market despite complaints from residents.

"It is normal to see people crossing the area with a handkerchief on their noses due to the awful smell, let alone noise and pollution to the environment," Samir Abdul Wahab, 55, a government employee said. "It is disgusting that we wake up every day and see such awful views."

"We tried hard to remove them by complaining to the municipality of the district but was in vain," said Wahab, referring to the "helpless nightmare," of the market presence and government's inaction.

However, Hameed al-Janabi, a butcher and sheep seller in the residential area of Dawoodi in western Baghdad believes his due rights for survival.

"The meat we sell is fresh and cheaper than those from the shops. It is not true that we cause troubles for the neighborhood. This is our way of making a living and nobody has the right to prevent us," said al-Janabi angrily.

Janabi was a stall vendor in the Hai al-Amel neighborhood before he changed his career in 2006 when he was forced to leave his house and marketplace during the sectarian strife in the Shiite dominated neighborhood.


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