Baghdadis shrug and shop after worst blast in months

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The air still smelled unmistakably of blood and the street was still strewn with shredded store mannequins and clothes.

But hundreds of Iraqi families had one response to the deadliest attack in Baghdad since September. They went shopping.

“That? That was just one explosion,” said Um Fadhil, a middle-aged woman trying on boots with her two teenaged daughters at a shop just 100 meters from where a car bomb killed 15 people and wounded 35 on Wednesday evening.

“No, I am not afraid. Things have gotten better.”

A day after the attack struck Karrada, one of the handsomest neighborhoods in Iraq, shopkeepers swept up the broken glass and vowed to maintain the last few months’ progress towards returning to normal life. Their shops were as busy as ever.

“This bombing will not affect us at all,” said Abu Hiba, 51, owner of a perfume shop. “Karrada has always been targeted because it symbolizes stability in Baghdad. Attacks like these are the final throes of a dying bull.”

Iraq has seen a dramatic reduction in violence over the past few months, but Sunni Arab militants issued a threat this week to launch a wave of attacks and U.S. forces say they expect the militants will attempt large scale strikes.

Four car bombs on Wednesday killed at least 23 people, including the one that struck Karrada at dusk, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Iraqi leaders in the fortified “Green Zone” compound across the Tigris River.

After years of sectarian bloodshed turned Baghdad into a concrete barrier-strewn fortress and drove hundreds of thousands of its residents from their homes, the Iraqi capital has started to breathe again over just the last few months.

Few neighborhoods have symbolized that progress more than Karrada, where stylish young Iraqi women can again be seen shopping for imported clothes on a main boulevard that runs between well-shaded villas.

Several people said the attack triggered the familiar horror that any shopping trip could be deadly.

“A friend of mine was killed in the blast and another had his leg blown off. I think we all hoped deep inside that we had seen the end of it,” said Zaid, 22, working in a children’s clothing store. “I’m sure yesterday’s attack will affect people’s confidence and reduce sales in the shops.”

But the proprietor of a woman’s clothing shop whose fluorescent lights were destroyed by the bomb said he was surprised by the size of the crowds that came the next day.

“I was afraid that after such a long time without terrorist bombings people would react more dramatically to this. But as you can see, it is a blessing to have so many customers on a Thursday morning,” he said. “Life can go on, because people know this was an act of desperation.”

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