Iraq: Baghdad’s century-old bookstores survive wars, conflicts

On the eastern side of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad, many bookstores open every morning, some of which have survived for decades despite wars, conflicts, insecurity and sectarian strife, especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The book market was set up as early as the end of the Ottoman era in the al-Saray market and then moved to the nearby al-Mutanabi Street.

During the early decades of the 20th century, the book market gradually flourished and gained the attention of many Arab and foreign publishing houses.

One of the oldest bookstores is the al-Assriyah bookstore, which was established in 1914. It was the first bookstore to move from al-Saray market to al-Mutanabi Street in 1948.

The bookstore’s owner Ayad al-Qamousi, who is 60 years old, has a Ph.D. in Islamic history and Islamic civilization. He told Xinhua that the founder of his bookstore was Mahmoud Helmi, who was a poet.

“My father bought the bookstore from its founder in 1964 after the man became too old, and later I inherited it from my father,” al-Qamousi said.

He said that “the bookstore contains many old books, some dating back to the 19th century, mostly lithographs. There are also many rare and valuable books that are first editions.”

Al-Assri bookbindery, which was established in 1920, is another century-old business in the book market on al-Mutanabi Street. It also sells books.

Abboud Mohammed al-Falluji, 80, inherited the business from his father and bequeathed it to his sons and grandsons, who are working in the bookbindery.

Jamal al-Bazzaz, a retired professor from Baghdad University, said many Iraqi families were fond of owning private libraries in their houses, as their book collections reflect the cultural level of the family.

Iraqis have suffered many difficulties due to international sanctions after the Gulf War, and the years of chaos and bloodshed that followed the U.S. invasion of the country in 2003. They had to look for various means to ensure the livelihood of their families, including selling their cherished books at low prices.

“In the 1990s, unfortunately, I used to see respected writers, thinkers, and university professors put their books on the side of the street to sell so that they could feed their families,” al-Qamousi said.

The entry of new “sellers” promoted the prosperity of the book market, yet it also made the market more competitive at that time.

The disasters the local book market suffered are far from over, especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which brought the country endless conflicts and violence.

On March 5, 2007, the book market in al-Mutanabi Street was struck by a suicide bomber, leaving at least 26 people killed and more than 50 others injured.

“A large part of my bookstore (al-Assriyah bookstore) was burned,” al-Qamousi said, adding that the upper floors, especially the third story where many of the rare books were stored, were all burned.

While strolling through the roofed al-Saray market, regular market-goers usually stop at a small bookstore, which is loaded with memories of Baghdad and its history.

Akram al-Filfily, in his 60s, sits at its forefront, waiting for professional readers to ask him about the oldest books and rare historical reference sources.

He said that the al-Filfily bookstore was founded in 1930 and is the only bookstore that has remained in the al-Saray market since its establishment.

Al-Filfily said that one of the painful incidents that affected those old bookstores was the 2007 suicide bombing, which led to the burning of many bookstores and bookstalls.

The huge blast prompted “some bookstore owners to leave the profession, and some turned to the stationery business after their property was damaged,” he said.

Besides providing Iraqi intellectuals, writers and thinkers with valuable books and historical documents, those bookstores also tell people about the ups and downs of the fate of Iraq, al-Bazzaz told Xinhua.

The Lingering Effects of U.S. Crimes in Iraq: 20 Years Later


Though 20 years have passed since the United States launched a blatant invasion into the sovereign state of Iraq, justice has not been done for Iraq and its people, many of whom are still suffering from the pain created by the unjust war.

During the more than eight-year war and ensuing years of violence after the 2011 U.S. pullout, more than 200,000 civilians were killed and over 9 million others displaced in Iraq. Much of the country’s infrastructure was also destroyed during the relentless bombings launched by the U.S.-led coalition.

As a result, Iraq, a rich country before the invasion, had quickly degenerated into a poor state and is still mired in poverty and chaos due to the political instability and economic hardship caused by the U.S. invasion and its impact.

The U.S. government justified its invasion into Iraq on concocted lies about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, but no trace of such weapons has been found until today. On this point, Washington owes Iraq and the international community a thorough explanation.

Iraq has neither received any formal apology from Washington for its illegal invasion, nor got any financial compensation for the massive destruction of its infrastructure and the crimes committed by U.S. troops against Iraqi civilians.

Meanwhile, none of those in Washington who made the decision to invade a sovereign state in blatant violation of the United Nations Charter has been brought to justice. None of those who encouraged or committed the heinous war crimes against civilians in Iraq has been truly prosecuted.

Worse still, if those who committed such crimes as invading a sovereign country could escape any punishment, they will repeat them again and again. As long as the United States continues its hegemonic and belligerent policies, the world will never be peaceful.

Indeed, with its previous crimes unpunished, the United States regards itself as being above the UN charter and other norms guiding the international order. Thus Washington is always tempted to repeat such crimes to serve its own interests, as shown by its launch of airstrikes against Libya and Syria not long after the Iraq War.

Even today, U.S. politicians insist that invading Iraq and ousting its government was a right thing to do. Washington still readily threatens to use force to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country that refuses to obey its orders. The world continues to live under the shadow of war and insecurity.

History has proven that though claiming itself as “peace lover,” the United States is indeed a “war empire.” Ever since its founding in 1776, the country has been at war for 93 percent of its existence. Even former U.S. President Jimmy Carter admitted that the U.S. is undoubtedly the most warlike nation in history.

Though little can be done to bring the American warmongers and criminals to justice for now because the United States remains the sole superpower, it is believed that the time of atonement will eventually come.

Justice could be late, but won’t be absent forever.