Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:11 pm (KSA) 17:11 pm (GMT)

Iraqis "too scared" to celebrate Valentine's

A gift shop in central Baghdad
A gift shop in central Baghdad

Baghdad florist Yussef Mohammed, who once sold flowers to Saddam Hussein, is not having a happy Valentine's Day.

"There are not many customers buying roses," he says, blaming the lack of security in the Iraqi capital for the fact that this year, as for the past three years, the focus has been more on making war than love.

In his shop in Baghdad's central Karrada district, the scent of flowers freshens the air which is otherwise heavy with fumes, dust and despair.

Small glass boxes inscribed with the words "I Love You" in English sit on shelves alongside red cushions in the shape of hearts. But the customers are staying away.

"A few people bought roses yesterday but no one came in today," says Mohammed despondently. "People are afraid of attacks. They are also hampered by the security measures which prevent them from moving freely."

Not far from his shop, which he opened in the 1970s, 19 people were killed on Monday when two car bombs exploded one after the other.

One year after the launch of the Baghdad security plan on February 14, 2007, the Iraqi capital is shaken by fewer blasts and the streets no longer become theatres for violent clashes between insurgents and the security forces.

The decrease in violence is being experienced elsewhere as well, with US and Iraqi officials saying that attacks across the country are down 62 percent since June while the number of Iraqis -- civilians and security force members -- killed in January 2008 was 541 against 2,087 in the same month in 2007.

But recent attacks in Baghdad, including Monday's twin blasts, have shown just how fragile the security situation is.

On February 1, two mentally impaired women carried out attacks in two pet markets, killing almost 100 people and wounding 200.

In the face of such violence, selling flowers is no longer the happy occupation it used to be, says Mohammed. And Valentine's Day, popularly celebrated in Iraq in the past, seems to be fading from memory.

"There are less than 10 flower stores left in Baghdad," he says. "Before the war in 2003, they were everywhere."

Saddam's flowers

He recalls the day -- "years ago" -- when Saddam himself came into the shop after ordering his convoy to a halt.

"He looked around, picked up a bunch of flowers, put them down and then walked out again. His aides bought the flowers and they left."

At the "House of Green", another florist in the district, flower seller Saja, in her 20s, is equally gloomy.

"We re-arranged the entire store for Valentine's Day, and ordered many roses. But only three or four young women bought flowers," she says.

"Our main clientele are the educated class of Iraqis, but most of them have fled the violence," says Saja, who would give only one name.

"People speak about bombs, attacks or power cuts more than anything else," she added.

At one end of the store, 26-year-old Ayman Mohammed hesitates over which bouquet to choose for his girlfriend. Looking at the price of the roses -- between four and eight dollars each -- he gives a sigh.

"I believe the best way to express one's feelings nowadays is to send an SMS message containing a rose," he says.

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