Baghdad Gets Back to 'Normal'

Pockets of security are emerging across the city.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov 1, 2007 — -- Shorja, Baghdad's largest market, is back in business and it's booming. Vendors tout their wares screaming discounts at full volume: "Big sale, everything at 2,000 dinars ($1.60)!" yells one.

While the hustle and bustle isn't on the scale of the old days (Shorja was Iraq's largest market and a major trade hub), life has undoubtedly returned.

There hasn't been an attack on the market since last February, when more than 70 people died in a series of bombings. Today the market is secured with concrete barriers and checkpoints manned by the Iraqi army. Everyone entering gets frisked, bags are checked, vehicles are banned and all goods must be carted in by hand.

"Security keeps out bombs, but we have a very hard time carrying in our merchandise," Hussein Abdul Kathim told ABC News.

Shoppers here take a risk every time they visit. Since February, at least 48 people have died in bomb, gun and mortar attacks in the area surrounding Shorja market.

It's a similar story across Baghdad. There are pockets of security where life is starting to get back to normal, but it's not normal by most standards. Across the city Sunnis and Shiites live in sectarian enclaves, many walled off.

Sunnis fear visiting Shiite areas and vice versa, even if it is just a few blocks away. Trust has broken down so much that a stranger in a neighborhood can arouse enough suspicion to warrant an attack.

More Security, Fewer Deaths

Travel around Baghdad is difficult, and because of the endless security checkpoints, unnecessary journeys are avoided.

This adaptation to life in Baghdad has contributed to a decrease in the death rate. According to the interior ministry, fewer bodies are being found in the streets; the city death toll was down slightly in October, when 143 people were registered killed, down from 219 in September. The nationwide death toll for Iraqi citizens is down 49 percent from August, with 1,195 deaths in October. The U.S. military credits the success of the troop surge with this fall in casualty figures.

Within smaller enclaves life is slowly trickling back to normal. In the Sunni neighborhood of Jami'aa, once one of Baghdad's finest, residents are returning and businesses opening. Jami'aa had been the scene of serious street fighting between Sunni insurgents, Shiite militia and the U.S. military.

But now Cpt. Mark Battjes of the Third Infantry Division is working on getting Jami'aa back on its feet.

"We are at the process of going from being a ghost town to coming back to something like normal," he told ABC News while out on one of his patrols.

Battjes began patrolling Jami'aa five months ago, and then his soldiers were attacked almost every day. Now it's down to just three times a month. The U.S. military said attacks on military personnel are down countrywide, and in October U.S. casualty figures dropped to their lowest since March 2006 with 38 soldiers killed in Iraq last month.

Commerce Grants for Iraqi Business

One of Battjes daily duties is helping businesses in Jami'aa apply for U.S.-funded grants of up to $2,500 each. He made 42 grants two weeks ago, and now said "things are starting to explode. That money is starting to grease the wheels in the economy."

Mustapha Rahman is one of 700 businesspeople in the district seeking such a grant. Security is good enough, he said, to open his computer store next week.

"I am beginning to build my future," he said.

On one deserted block, Ahlam Ahemed's flower shop is the first business there to reopen in a year and a half.

"Now that other people in the neighborhood have started to reopen we reopened," Ahlam said, but so far she has not had one customer.

Large-scale violence between Sunnis and Shiites has stopped in Jami'aa, but there are still criminal gangs, and most people remain too afraid to leave their homes.

Still, with the wedding season coming up, Ahlam hopes that business and life will get back to something like normal.

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