Business as 'Normal' in Baghdad's Markets U.S. troops are working to secure Baghdad's markets, which have been frequent targets of deadly insurgent attacks. One truck bombing in February killed at least 135 people. But even against this backdrop of destruction, the city's markets are struggling to come back.
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Business as 'Normal' in Baghdad's Markets

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Business as 'Normal' in Baghdad's Markets

Business as 'Normal' in Baghdad's Markets

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Over the past four years you've heard dozens of NPR reporters tell a story from the war in Iraq. Ken Stern is NPR's chief executive officer. He visited Iraq this month to meet NPR's Baghdad bureau. Here's an entry from his Notebook.

KEN STERN: I went to Baghdad to see how our reporters live. To understand what it means to cover this most important, demanding and dangerous of stories.

(Soundbite of motor vehicle)

STERN: I ended up walking a little further than expected in Annie Garrels' shoes into a five-hour embed hastily proposed and produced by the U.S. Army.

Major General JOSEPH FIL (U.S. Army): Who's Ken going to be riding with today?

Unidentified Man #1: Second Humvee, sir.

STERN: It was an inspection of three Baghdad markets - battlegrounds of insurgents' attacks and that U.S. forces try to secure.

(Soudnbite of Baghdad market)

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking in foreign language)

STERN: You can buy just about anything you might need in these markets: clothing, spices, curdled yogurt, knock-off watches, power tools, and cell phones with intrusive ringtones.

(Soundbite of cell phone ring tone)

STERN: Until recently, the Doura market was an insurgent stronghold in this Sunni neighborhood. Now the market is coming back, protected by blast walls in every direction and troops under the command of U.S. Army Major General Joseph Fil.

Major General FIL (U.S. Army): We do not presume for a moment that this is going to stop suicide bombers, but what it'll do is it'll make them really work hard to get in here.

(Soundbite of music)

STERN: As we dismount, I watch closely for the reception from Iraqis in the market. We're greeted by a range of looks - some friendly, some hard. But even some of the hardest looks melt when General Fil wades into the crowd like a small town politician trolling for votes.

Maj. Gen. FIL: Well, I'm very happy that your business is going well. Congratulations.

Unidentified Man #3: (speaking in foreign language).

Maj. Gen. FIL: I wish you great success. Good luck to you.

Unidentified Man #3: (speaking in foreign language).

STERN: In early February, a truck bomb at Baghdad's Rasafa market killed at least 135 people. A month later, I saw rubble from the blast still smoldering, but even against this backdrop of destruction, the market has blossomed again, every stall occupied, every spot taken.

If you ignore the cordon of soldiers and hovering Apache helicopters, the market seems almost normal: music blares from the CD stalls, pushcarts full of carpets roll up the street, and hawkers pitch their wares. For me, it's a powerful and surprising picture of people carrying on with business as usual in a city where nothing is usual anymore.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: NPR chief executive officer Ken Stern.

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