Hard times hit Iraq's Feast of the Sacrifice
AFP - 2 hours 36 minutes ago
BAGHDAD (AFP) - - At a time of year when Muslims sacrifice animals to mark the feast of Eid al-Adha at the end of the hajj, sheep in Iraq are almost worth their weight in gold because of drought and poor pastures.
The lack of rainfall has failed to swell the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and grazing has suffered accordingly.
"The price of livestock has doubled since last year because of the drought, mainly in the south, and because of the price of fodder," said 52-year-old merchant Hassan Sabr al-Rubaie in the Iraqi capital.
"It's simple -- the price of a tonne of barley has gone from 125,000 dinars (100 dollars) to 750,000 dinars (600 dollars)," the animal dealer said at Amin market in southeast Baghdad.
The surge in prices comes at a time when the government is trimming the salaries of civil servants at the behest of the International Monetary Fund in a bid to curb inflation and reduce the budget deficit.
"Demand is really down this year," Rubaie said. "Before last year's Feast of the Sacrifice I sold 50 animals, whereas this year I've sold around 15 so far," said the merchant who has traded in animals for 25 years.
Muslims marked the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia on Monday by sacrificing a sheep for Eid, in a symbolic reenactment of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's orders.
But this year a sheep in Iraq costs between 170 and 330 dollars, compared with 110 dollars in 2007, Rubaie said.
However, another dealer, Allawi Kazem, blames the shortage of sheep on smuggling to the country's neighbours.
"The meat from Iraqi sheep is the best in the world, and neighbouring states buy it at inflated prices. Smugglers are cashing in because of a lack of government controls," he said.
Despite the cost, some customers still come to the market to buy a sheep that will have its throat cut for the feast and in honour of dear ones killed in the wave of violence that swept Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.
"I am buying a sacrificial beast in memory of my son, who was killed by a booby-trapped car last year," said 66-year-old Abdel Nabi Hanash al-Lami, dressed in a traditional Arab dishdasha.
"For me it is a duty that I perform to remind people that he died an innocent man. My son was sitting in his shop in Karrada when a car parked opposite exploded, killing him and his cousin.
"This is the second time I'm buying an animal in his memory, and I will continue to do so," Lami added.
Retired army officer Bassem Rahimeh said he bought an animal in honour of his three dead children.
"I lost two of my sons in a bomb blast at a market, and the third fell in fighting between American soldiers and the Mahdi Army" of fiercely anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, he said.
Despite an improving security situation, the Iraqi authorities have imposed stringent measures for this year's Eid al-Adha celebrations in Baghdad and in Najaf, deploying 34,000 security force members in the holy Shiite city alone.
Both the police and the army are on alert for the feast, which lasts for around four days and is marked from Monday by the country's Sunni Muslims and from Tuesday by Shiites.
In Baghdad the capital's "security plan" has swung into operation, with restrictions being imposed especially on the movement of vehicles in a bid to prevent attacks marring a religious festival common to all Muslims.
The city's residents are not allowed to park cars along main roads, outside religious sites or near parks and markets for the duration of Eid al-Adha.
Motorbikes and carts of every kind, often used in bomb attacks, have been banned from markets until the festival ends.
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Iraqi men haggle over the price of a sheep at a livestock market in central Baghdad. At a time of year when Muslims sacrifice animals to mark the feast of Eid al-Adha at the end of the hajj, sheep in Iraq are almost worth their weight in gold because of drought and poor pastures.
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