Monday, October 06, 2003

But Senaa Street, a strip where Mr. Muhanad has his store, is one of those pockets that offers a note of hope.

On the east side of the busy two-lane road, a dozen dusty buildings house the Technical University of Baghdad, an engineering school with 14,000 students. The new semester has just begun. On the west side, two-story office buildings house scores of computer stores, while on the sidewalk shoeshine boys and tea vendors vie for customers.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that 5,000 new businesses have opened in Iraq since May 1. There is no way to know exactly, but the consensus on the street is that business has improved since American troops ousted Saddam Hussein.

United Nations sanctions have ended, meaning that the stores can import computers more easily, and, without tariffs, prices are falling. A 17-inch color monitor that sold for $125 before the war is now $100.

"It's better now," said Najwa Sahib, co-owner of Al Khabeer, which translates as The Expert, on the second floor of Baghdad's equivalent of a minimall. Like other merchants on the street, Ms. Sahib closes each day about 3 p.m. because she fears armed robberies. Still, she sells about 40 computers a month, mainly to American businesses, relief organizations and students.

At Al Khaiyal — The Imagination — a dingy store whose floors are crowded with disassembled computers, Aqueel Naji and two employees sell pirated copies of Microsoft Windows for 1,750 Iraqi dinars, or less than $1. Mr. Naji said his income had risen since the war ended, in part because he no longer had to bribe Mr. Hussein's security officials.

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