Thursday, August 14, 2003


Good news along the shopkeepers front.
BAGHDAD, Iraq — These are bittersweet times for shopkeeper Mohammed Kassim.

The owner of Hazan CD Center, a movie and music shop in Baghdad's Karada shopping district, knows that Iraq's economy is reeling from unemployment, rampant crime and the collapse of many government-owned companies.

But down here on the lower rungs of Iraq's economic ladder, business is booming.

Sales of CDs and DVDs at Kassim's small shop are up 75 percent compared with last year.

Temporarily free from taxes, import tariffs and government regulations on what and how they sell, small-business owners like Kassim report that they are enjoying the fruits of a free-market economy. Although overall reform of Iraq's previous centrally planned system will be difficult, economists and bankers say the postwar surge in small merchants' sales bodes well for Iraq's long-term prospects.

Under the old regime, Kassim said, he paid a $5,000 annual business license tax plus a monthly government "street sanitation" fee (though he never saw any cleaning). Worst of all, Kassim endured daily visits from Ministry of Information officials who perused his selections to ensure that they didn't include racy Western movies or Shiite-themed music, which were illegal.

"I was quite afraid," said Kassim. "Now we can offer much more, and so people buy more."

No comments: