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In the Shadow of War: Building Business on a Broken Bridge


This bridge, like most in Mosul, was blown up by IS militants as Iraqi forces closed in a month ago, and now serves as a makeshift marketplace, Jan. 19, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

When the bomb blew, this bridge cracked in half, with one side breaking again as it fell. The result is a half bridge attached to a steep V-shaped structure, still usable for the creative and the strong.

On the half-bridge still intact, a makeshift marketplace sprung to life a few days after Islamic State militants were forced out of the area two weeks ago. While helicopter gunners shoot in nearby neighborhoods and smoke from airstrikes and mortars drifts across the sky, business in this market is growing steadily.

"I didn't chose to stay and live under Islamic State rule," says Mohammad, as he mans a cart selling dairy products, frozen chickens and bottled water. "But where else would I go?"

Men struggle to carry products up and down the steep slopes of the broken bridge, but they say business is still steadily improving, in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Men struggle to carry products up and down the steep slopes of the broken bridge, but they say business is still steadily improving, in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Mohammad's cart is joined with dozens of others selling fruit, phone credits, household cleaning products and other items on the bridge, one of several destroyed by IS militants as the Iraqi army advanced, now controlling nearly all the city east of the Tigris River.

On the broken half of the bridge, groups of young men slide boxes of vegetables and other products down one side and push them up the other. Cooking gas containers are used to keep another young man balanced as he whisks down the slope like a child sledding a snowy hill.

On the edges of the broken half of the bridge, women and older people inch down and back up, gripping onto the railing.

"They blew up most or all of the bridges before the army arrived," says Ahmed, 16, while watching people struggle on the steep slopes. "Maybe it was strategic. But I think they just want to destroy things."

Iraqi snipers guard historical targets as mortars continue to fall over the river into Iraqi-controlled eastern Mosul, Jan. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Iraqi snipers guard historical targets as mortars continue to fall over the river into Iraqi-controlled eastern Mosul, Jan. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Low prices, no money

In the past months of IS rule, prices in this area soared, with food and fuel costing five to 15 times the normal rate. The sharp increase in prices after more than two years of economic stagnation under IS has crippled Mosul neighborhoods.

Now, prices have returned to pre-IS days, although locals say there is a lot less money to be spent. But on the bridge, workers say their new businesses are infinitely more satisfying than the last months with the militants, who grew more ruthless with civilians as the Iraqi army approached.

"I transport things for people," says a young man named Ahmed, 17, while leaning on his empty wooden cart.

Families are on the move in Iraq-controlled Mosul, with some fleeing and others going home as soldiers battle the last IS strongholds in the eastern part of the city, Jan. 23, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Families are on the move in Iraq-controlled Mosul, with some fleeing and others going home as soldiers battle the last IS strongholds in the eastern part of the city, Jan. 23, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

In Iraqi-controlled Mosul, cars are banned in many places for fear of suicide bombers and the local population is on the move. Some people are going back to the homes they fled, while others are fleeing. Many people are also looking for supplies, after months or years of isolation.

A wooden cart and the strength to get it down and back up the bridge earns Ahmed a living of $8 to $12 a day.

"Thank God I am working now," he says. Like many teenagers who have missed out on three years of their education because of IS, he has no plans to go back to school. "The militants and the Iraqi forces were mortaring each other, and we were in the middle."

WATCH: Building Business on a Broken Bridge

Smashed markets

Along the streets near the bridge, individuals sell items like kerosene, petrol, snacks and cigarettes. Their main local marketplace in the Sukkar neighborhood isn't far off, but it lies in ruins.

When Iraqi forces take a neighborhood, they often station themselves in the center as they secure the area house by house. The area where Iraqi forces are stationed becomes a target for car bombs, armed drones and mortars.

Many buildings in the Sukkar market are flattened and garbage piles onto the streets, with no municipality to provide clean up. The bodies of dead IS militants rot with the garbage, and the local mosque is bombed out.

Marketplaces are often the center of neighborhoods, and when Iraqi forces take over, they base themselves in the center to secure the area, drawing IS suicide bombers and fire. At this market in the Sukkar neighborhood, the bodies of the bombers are rotting with the trash in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 22, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Marketplaces are often the center of neighborhoods, and when Iraqi forces take over, they base themselves in the center to secure the area, drawing IS suicide bombers and fire. At this market in the Sukkar neighborhood, the bodies of the bombers are rotting with the trash in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 22, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

As he examines one of the bodies, an Iraqi soldier sees money peeking out of a pocket. He pulls it out and throws it into the trash pile. Two children, about eight years old, snatch up the cash, but adults around quickly object. "That money is sinful," says one man. "It comes from evil. It is sinful."

The children pause, apparently unsure how money could be sinful, but then readily obey, tossing the money back onto the body with force.

"All of this is just from the fighting," says Ous, 19, who says he was planning to finish high school and college before IS took over.

"Some of my relatives died when their house collapsed after a car bomb," he says. "Others died in a mortar attack. Things are better, but you can see what this market looks like."

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