Iraq Bomber Aimed at Alcohol Sellers

20iraq6002.jpgBAGHDAD — Blood and ouzo mingled on the sidewalk outside a shattered Baghdad liquor store on Thursday after three people were killed in a car bombing directed at alcohol sellers in one of Baghdad’s most heavily protected areas.

The alcohol sellers, who have expanded their business as security in Baghdad has improved in recent months, were among the few merchants plying their trade during the Muslim holiday celebrating Id al-Adha, the end of the hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

But the scattered shrapnel and body parts along Sadoun Street did not appear to have much of an impact on Id al-Adha revelers in the neighborhood, who continued as though it were a normal day, perhaps inured to the sounds and sights of violence for years.
“There are explosions everywhere,” said a man who gave his name only as Mr. Ahmed, gesturing to the heavens. “We believe in God.”

Even as the bomb sent a cloud of black smoke rising into the midafternoon sky, Iraqis kept partying at a social club in Paradise Square a few hundred yards away. Children ran around the lawn while their parents sat at tables listening to the sound system blaring the song “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

The wreckage came to rest alongside 10-foot-high concrete blast walls that had been brightly painted with tranquil scenes of camels and marshland waterways as part of an American-financed beautification effort.

Residents said the bomber parked his car outside one of the two dozen liquor stores in the area and walked away before setting it off, apparently using a timer or remote control. A passing Chevrolet Suburban took the full impact, and its passengers were likely to be among the three dead or the 27 people wounded, according to the Iraqi police.

“There’s nothing left to be targeted here, only poor people who buy alcohol and the unfortunate family in the Suburban,” said an Iraqi policeman. “They were only passing by and got caught up in a tragedy on Id al-Adha, which is supposed to be a happy day.”

It was unclear which of the factions fighting bitterly in Iraq might have been responsible. Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents are united in their disapproval of alcohol.

But the owners of neighboring stores showed a remarkable resilience, shrugging off the idea that the liquor shops attracted the bomber.
Some merchants appear to be so tolerant because the alcohol trade increases demand for their own nuts, chips, chickpeas and other snacks.

Beside the gutted sedan that carried the bomb, bloodstained sandals lay next to cartons of Carlsberg Lager, Absolut Vodka and cheap whiskey brands bearing Scottish names but originating in northern India.

Along the street, storefronts still bear the fading signs of travel agents, restaurants and computer outlets from the era of Saddam Hussein. But most are now closed and have been replaced by liquor stores, a fate shared by the nearby cinema whose front lobby has been divided up into low-rent stalls selling alcohol.

Most of these businesses, residents say, are run by enterprising Yazidis, members of a Kurdish-speaking sect. Iraq’s Yazidis live mainly in the northwest, and their faith combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and includes a Peacock Angel.

Residents say the Yazidis capitalized on the past few months of relative stability to take over the liquor stores in this area. Christians once dominated the trade locally but fled to escape death threats and kidnappings by religious militants.

Mustafa Hassan, 19, a grocery stall owner, said the blast walls and checkpoints installed in the neighborhood to protect American contractors and the nearby Palestine Hotel had fostered the mushrooming alcohol sector. He said that over the past year the number of liquor stores had increased to 30 from 5