BAGHDAD Nov. 2, 2010— -- In the most encouraging signs in months that a sense of normality may be returning to Iraq, more than 1,200 companies from 13 countries traveled to Baghdad for Iraq's first international trade fair since Saddam Hussein's regime.
The fair comes as Iraq is trying to rebuild its economy, wracked by years of sanctions by the West during the last years of Saddam reign, then invasion by the U.S. and its allies, followed by a vicious insurgency fueled by al Qaeda and ethnic tensions.
Iraqi Prime Minister Noori Maliki opened the exhibitions Monday saying, "Today with such international presence and global companies participation, Baghdad is rising after years of suffering." He added that the fair is a message to the world that "Iraq is standing up and rebuilding and is on the right path."
The 10-day fair opened a day after militants invaded a Christian church and took hostages. Between the militants actions and the government's rescue, 58 died and more than 70 were wounded.
And today 10 blasts ripped through several Baghdad neighborhoods, killing at least 76 and injuring more than 200 people. Together the attacks were a bloody reminder that Baghdad is not yet a secure and stable city.
The violence appeared to have limited the Americans' presence at the fair, and the biggest exhibitions were held by the French, Iranians and Turks.
The biggest exhibition halls were given to the French, the Iranians and the Turks.
In the French hall, many of the French businessmen arrived on the first direct flight from Paris to Baghdad Oct. 31 with the French trade minister.
"I'm not afraid," said a cheerful Jean- Pierre Hollo, executive sales manager for MAN Diesel and Turbo company. He described the fair as a "chance to be in direct contact with Iraqi officials and Iraqi businessmen," and was hoping "to build power stations that the country is in need to up to 200 megawatts."
In halting English, Iranian A. R. Golvaljooie, marketing and advertising manager for Hafez Tile and Ceramic Industries, described the fair as "very promising," predicting the country is on the verge of an economic boom if the security situation settled down.
A quick tour of the fair, which has the slogan "The World's Opportunity for Trading and Investment in Iraq," showed displays from companies selling products ranging from oil industries needs, high tech technologies, agriculture to companies that sell honey and detergents.