IRAQ: Market in ruins after bulldozers move in
The day started like every other in Hurriya, a working-class district in Baghdad. By 7 a.m., vendors had begun opening the stalls that line the sidewalks and offer makeup, books, toys, phones and just about anything else to shoppers browsing one of the neighborhood's informal outdoor markets.
But at about 2 p.m., bulldozers guarded by Iraqi security forces showed up. Some witnesses said U.S. troops also were present. The heavy machines moved quickly to destroy the illegal marketplace, which had grown to cover a large section of sidewalk and is similar to scores of others across the capital.
The vendors manning the illegal stalls are not uneducated. Most of those in Hurriya have university degrees or at least high school diplomas, but they have been unable to find decent jobs because of the effect of the war on Iraq's economy. For those who have jobs, the pay often is not enough to support a family and pay for a home, so they turned to street-selling to supplement their incomes.
"I don't know what to do," said Udai, a 28-year-old teacher, as he surveyed the ruins of his small kiosk, which had sold hair accessories and women's underwear until the Oct. 21 raid. Udai, who did not want his full name published, got married two years ago and is awaiting the birth of his first child. His habit was to work as a schoolteacher from morning until afternoon, and then open his kiosk at about 4 p.m. and remain until nightfall. "I established this job because my salary will not be enough" when the baby comes, said Udai as other vendors and passers-by picked through the market's remains.
Some locals said there had been rumors that a raid was planned. But they were shocked and angry at the level of destruction, and many said the Iraqi security forces accompanying the bulldozers treated them harshly. Some accused Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of waging war against poor people and said this was a sign of his government's failure to help regular Iraqis struggling to recover from nearly six years of war.
But a spokesman for the Baghdad municipal government, Hakim Abdulzahra, said such moves are necessary to prevent what he called the "mutilation that turns Baghdad into a village." Abdulzahra denied the sellers' claims they had no warning. In fact, he said the city goes out of its way to issue warnings to illegal vendors and usually gives them multiple warnings before removing them.
According to Abdulzahra, vendors are supposed to have contracts with the municipality and pay fees for their places of business. There are rules about where such kiosks can be erected to prevent them from blocking sidewalks and streets. He warned that the destruction of the Hurriya market is part of a campaign aimed at clearing Baghdad of illegal vendors. "How long can we continue to spoil them?" said Abdulzahra. "They are violators."
In addition to the stalls, the Iraqi forces also destroyed generators and sun shades used to power the market and protect sellers and shoppers from the blazing sun.
Abu Zahra, 39, who sold food from his stall, said the only U.S. forces he saw appeared to be monitoring the operation, not taking part in it. He accused the Iraqi forces of being rude and of detaining anyone who tried to reason with them or talk to them. "This so-called elected government treats people harshly. Even the stranger, the American, has mercy on Iraqi people more than it [the Iraqi government] has," he said bitterly.
--Usama Redha in Baghdad
Photos: Scenes from the Hurriya market minutes after bulldozers moved in. Credit: Usama Redha.
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