Iraqis cre­ate mar­ket in mud of dis­placed camp

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Mo­bile phones, car­tons of cig­a­rettes and fresh mut­ton are all on sale in­side a camp for Iraqi civil­ians dis­placed in the bat­tle to re­cap­ture Mo­sul-if they have the money. In the Khazir camp, buy­ers trudge in the mud, skid­ding around in flimsy shoes and ex­am­in­ing im­pro­vised mar­ket stalls on the ground be­tween tents that shel­ter thou­sands of peo­ple.

Be­hind his makeshift dis­play of mo­bile phones and USB ca­bles, 28-year-old Waad Kha­laf grins. Buy­ers are per­ma­nently flock­ing to his stall, he says. Un­der the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group, “hav­ing a mo­bile meant pri­son so now ev­ery­body needs to buy one,” he says, his hands stuffed into the pock­ets of his fake leather jacket to warm them. The for­mer la­borer es­caped his home town of Gogjali on the out­skirts of Mo­sul in north­ern Iraq in Novem­ber as fight­ing raged there be­tween Iraqi forces and IS fight­ers.

Sell­ing phones for up to around 130,000 Iraqi di­nars ($100) each al­lows him to buy warm win­ter clothes and shoes for his daugh­ter and son, says the fa­ther-of-two. Kha­laf and his wife can then also af­ford to buy medicine from Ar­bil in Iraqi Kur­dis­tan sev­eral dozen kilo­me­ters to the east, he says.

Not far away in the im­pro­vised mar­ket, Kha­laf’s clients can charge their new phone by plug­ging it in to a multi-socket ex­ten­sion cord linked to a gen­er­a­tor. In a camp with just four hours of elec­tric­ity a day, savvy young en­trepreneurs are ask­ing for the equiv­a­lent of around 40 US cents for an hour of power from the roar­ing ma­chine. Kha­laf has only been sell­ing his phones for three days but Farhan Yassin says he was one of the first sales­men at the im­pro­vised mar­ket. It hap­pened “just like that”, he says. “We never spoke to each other but some­how we all ended up here.”

Snip­ping skills

For 12 days, Yassin has been sell­ing cig­a­rettes as a way of re­turn­ing to nor­mal­ity af­ter liv­ing un­der the ji­hadists. He lost his shop in Mo­sul af­ter IS closed it down and made him pay the equiv­a­lent of around $1,300 for sell­ing cig­a­rettes, he says, which were just as sin­ful as mo­bile phones un­der their ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive rule. He now sells each packet of cig­a­rettes for around 500 di­nars (around 40 US cents) af­ter buy­ing them in bulk in Ar­bil. Am­mar, a bar­ber, also left Mo­sul last month when anti-IS forces ar­rived at the gates of Iraq’s ji­hadist-held se­cond city.

He was only able to smug­gle a pair of scis­sors into his bag as he fled and had to buy all the rest of his equip­ment in Ar­bil. Seat­ing his clients in front of a mir­ror, he uses his new gear to trim their beards or snip away at their hair. His cus­tomers “pay what they want as no­body has work”, he says, plas­tic comb in hand, bags of veg­eta­bles left be­hind on his small ta­ble as pay­ment.

The 26-year-old his­tory grad­u­ate was un­able to work as a teacher un­der IS as the group set up its own schools, says the young man, whose head is wrapped tightly in a scarf un­der a hood to keep out the bit­ter cold. When he could not find work at a camp school either, he again re­sorted to his snip­ping skills to sup­port his young daugh­ter “who needs di­a­pers and pow­der milk”.

Not far from where he cuts hair, pow­der milk is on sale next to san­i­tary pads, un­der­wear, metal cut­lery and fizzy drinks for those with money. Cash is in rare sup­ply among the roughly three mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed by fight­ing in Iraq. But one cou­ple has found a so­lu­tion. They slip bags of rice and lentils they have re­ceived as aid through the fence sur­round­ing the camp to peo­ple on the other side who buy them for a few pre­cious bank notes. —AFP

MO­SUL: In this Sun­day, Dec 18, 2016 photo, Iraqi chil­dren look at the body of a half-buried Is­lamic State mil­i­tant while talk­ing to an Iraqi sol­dier in the Al-Barid dis­trict. —AP

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