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Baghdad Neighborhoods Barricade Themselves In

Working in Iraq has never been more dangerous. Bakers, hairdressers and rubbish collectors are just some of the professions that have been singled out by death squads. As a street vendor, Fua'ad Amin, 48, faces danger every day in order to feed his family of nine.

When Amin leaves his house in a suburb of the capital, Baghdad, at 6AM every morning, he needs to choose carefully where to sell his goods from. Frequent explosions have forced him to change his location daily.

Carrying three big sacks full of electronic gadgets made in China and pirate CDs made at home, Amin takes the first bus he sees to find different places to sell his wares and make money to feed his family of nine.

But his 12-hour work days just don't bring enough in to support his family, he said. "Because I have to change my location every day, I lose customers because they can never find me in the same place," Amin said.

"In addition, people don't have the money to buy like before. Foreign music has been prohibited by insurgents [deeming to be against Islam] so I depend on my Arabic music CDs, but most of the time they are not the ones preferred by the younger generation," he added.

"Come on, come close, it's cheap. Hear music and dance to make your life happier!" Amin shouts to get the attention of customers.

Amin said he has to stay alert all the time. He watches his back and keeps a close eye on cars passing by or any person acting strangely. If he does see something suspicious, he picks up his goods and runs to another area.

"A couple of weeks ago I was right. A man came near me asking where the police car usually stops in the fair. When he left, I took my electronics and CDs and ran like a deer. After 10 minutes, I heard an explosion and later heard the news that more than six people were killed by the same man who approached me -- a suicide bomber," said Amin.

"There are some days when I'm so scared that I go home without selling anything, but I prefer this than putting myself at risk."

Amin did not go to school as a child because he was an orphan and then married very young. "I have been trying to get a decent job for years but no one gives jobs to an illiterate," Amin said.

He had worked as a gardener until earlier this year and had been getting enough money to feed his family. However, since February, when sectarian violence in Iraq began escalating, his customers started to ask what religious sect he was to determine whether or not to keep him on.

He lost many customers because of this and then more because of poverty people could no longer afford the luxury of a gardener.

So Amin decided to change profession. In April, he borrowed money from a neighbor and bought a computer so that he could copy music CDs and sell them in the street. Being illiterate meant he needed his son to help him do this. This proved to have tragic consequences.

"In July, another person in our neighborhood who also makes pirate CDs killed my son while he was out buying bread for his mother. The man said that my son was taking over his work," said Amin, adding that the killer was imprisoned for this offence but that it made no difference because his son was gone for good.

Amin had to carry on so asked a relative to help him copy the CDs. "He asks me for 50 percent of all my income. I had no choice because I need this job so that my family can eat," he said. "Maybe one day I can learn how to read and write and work in a better job. But in the meantime, I have to continue selling CDs."

© IRIN   [Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

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Albion Monitor   November 20, 2006   (

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