Iraq Violence Feeds Funeral Businesses
Thursday, August 17, 2006; 5:31 AM
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Back in 1982, Radhwan Mizaal Ali opened a tiny shop offering funeral supplies. Now he runs six shops, and business is booming.
"Whenever they beat war drums, our business flourishes more," Ali said as he puffed on a hookah waterpipe in one of his shops.
From coffin makers to professional mourners who weep and wail at ceremonies, a wave of killings in Baghdad is fueling a boom in the funeral industry.
Ali offers everything a grieving family needs for a proper burial: chairs for the mourners, tape recorders and speakers to transmit Quranic verses, plates for traditional foods and a generator _ all rented out for about $100 a day.
According to Muslim and Iraqi tradition, bodies should be buried quickly, if possible on the very day of death. 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, where mourners and the poor in the neighborhood can partake. That's where Ali and other funeral suppliers come in.
And demand for their services is up. Since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, much of the country has been gripped by a wave of reprisal killings by Sunni and Shiite extremists.
The United Nations says nearly 6,000 people were killed in May and June, and the morgue in Baghdad said it received about 1,500 bodies of people who died violently last month.
With killings on the rise, coffin maker Abbas Hussein Mohammed has opened a new shop to cope with the demand.
"Our business is booming day after day with each roadside bomb or car bomb and with the ongoing sectarian killings," Abbas said as he showed off his wooden coffins inside his tiny shop on Baghdad's Haifa Street.
"During the Saddam era, we used to do one or two coffins a day and the price ranged between $5 to $10," Mohammed said. Now he produces an average of 10 to 15 coffins a day and charges about $50 for each of them.
Um Alaaa, 50, is a professional mourner who attends funerals to add emotion to the ceremony. The profession is widespread in the Middle East, but lately demand has been so great that she is training one of her six daughters to help with the workload.
"I can't do more than three funerals a day," she said by telephone from Baghdad's Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold, as she was preparing to attend another funeral.
Her rate is about $50 per appearance, which she limits to Sadr City unless clients agree to drive her to and from the services.
"Increasing demands give me the impression that this cursed country is running out of its people," she said.