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With Morgues Full, Iraq Turns to Digging Mass Graves

The continuing violence in Baghdad is fuelling a boom in the funeral industry.

Back in Saddam Hussein's time, coffin maker Abdul-Wahab Khalil Mohammed used to sell one or two coffins a day at $5-10 each. Now he produces an average of 15 to 20 coffins a day and charges $50-75 for each one.

"Our business is booming," said Mohammed pointing to at least seven caskets in front of his tiny shop in Baghdad's central Allawi area.

Professional mourners like 51-year-old Um Ali, who attends funerals to add emotion to the ceremony, are also cashing in. "I feel like I'm a death toll meter. Since the end of 2005, I've been doing a daily average of three to five funerals," said Um Ali.

Um Ali, who charges $50-$100 per appearance, is now training one of her daughters and a nephew.

"I can't do more than three to five funerals a day because the security situation means I can't move around Baghdad easily," said Um Ali who limits herself to Baghdad's Shia-dominated neighborhood of Mashtal, unless clients agree to drive her to and from the services.

The violence has also been good for Saif Tawfiq al-Ani's funeral supplies' business, which has expanded from one tiny shop in 1989 to four shops and two pick-up trucks today. He hires out everything a grieving family needs for a proper burial -- chairs for the mourners, tape recorders, speakers to broadcast Koranic verses, plates for traditional food and a generator -- all for about $200 a day.

According to Muslim and Iraqi tradition, bodies should be buried quickly, if possible on the day of death itself. But tradition also calls for three days of mourning. Families rent a tent near the deceased's home and receive visitors. On the final day of mourning, the deceased's family throws a big feast, in which mourners and the neighborhood's poor can partake. That is where al-Ani and other funeral suppliers come in.

"The demand for our services has gone up since the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra [in February 2006] since when much of the country has been gripped by a wave of reprisal killings," said al-Ani.

Since mid-2005 textile merchant Abdul-Sahib Mukhtar Ni'ma has stopped importing brightly colored items and instead has specialized in selling black cloth in Baghdad's markets.

"Most people these days are asking for black cloth to wear or use for banners to announce deaths," Ni'ma said.

© IRIN 2007

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Albion Monitor   August 8, 2007   (

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