Small businesses have been reopening in Iraq as violence in many parts of the country has been declining. Many businesses closed in 2006 and 2007 during fierce fighting between Sunnis and Shi'ites. But now with improved security, small business is coming back to life. VOA's Deborah Block has more.

About a year ago, in the Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliyah, it was too dangerous for this man to work outside on the street. The neighborhood was a battleground for Shi'ite and Sunni militias.

Stores closed and streets were empty except for gunmen and the victims of sectarian killings. 

In the past year, U.S. troops, U.S.-backed Iraqi volunteers, and Iraqi soldiers patrolling the streets have helped reduce the violence and stabilize the neighborhood.

The once prosperous area is filled with trash and sewage and lacks electricity. But that has not stopped this restaurant from opening or this barber from re-opening his barber shop.

He says the militias used to attack people but now everything is good. He wishes business was better but says people do not have much money.

Muthana Idan Kabul owns a tiny shop that serves tea in the Karkh area of Baghdad. He says during some of the worst violence in Karkh, insurgents stole his furniture and set his shop on fire. Today, people come here to catch up with friends, and of course, like this Iraqi policeman, to drink tea.

Kabul has received a $2,500 loan from the U.S. government to improve his business. Since 2003, the U.S. has given about $18-million in loans to small Iraqi businesses.

He says business is good and he hopes to open a bigger shop. He wants to buy new tables and chairs.

This small business owner works in Baghdad's Green Zone, a safer area controlled by the U.S. military. For the past four years, he and his son have been selling souvenirs, mostly to U.S. troops.

He says he used to make a decent living. But now that more U.S. troops are leaving Iraq, he says that is difficult.

South of Baghdad, two Iraqi businessmen built a gasoline station in the town of Tunis. It's the only station for many kilometers. They say they opened the station after the area became safer. Customers line up to fill their vehicles as well containers with gasoline.  

They say they have many customers, but the station sometimes runs out of gasoline because there are not enough trucks transporting gas from southern Iraq.

These gas station owners say they hope the relative calm in Iraq will continue once Iraqi forces take over from American troops. But they fear peace may not last once U.S. forces leave Iraq.