Ferris wheels and tombs off-limits to Iraqis on Eid holidays

Basra (Iraq) (AFP) –


On the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, when Iraqis visit loved ones' tombs and take children to the funfair, the coronavirus pandemic put both cemeteries and Ferris wheels off-limits on Friday.

The virus has cost almost 4,700 lives and infected over 121,000 people in Iraq, but it has also sharpened an economic crisis born of a slide in lifeline oil revenues.

"Civil servants' salaries are being paid late, taxis or day labourers no longer have work, this has an impact on everyone," said Ahmed Abdel Hussein, an official in Basra, a port city near the southern tip of Iraq.

"I'm thinking of all the children who this year will not get any presents because of the crisis," he said on the first day of the feast, being celebrated with the country under curfew.

"Eid used to be the happiest day of the year before, now it's a burden," said another official, Falah, 35, who has two children and an elderly mother to support.

Shopkeepers and traders, who rely on Eid al-Adha for a large part of their annual turnover, are also affected.

Abu Hassan al-Bazouni, who owns a sheep farm in Basra, has seen sales decline despite the tradition of sacrificing a lamb for the feast.

Apart from high unemployment, "this year, confinement has prevented trade from one province to another, so sheep prices have increased," he told AFP.

In a survey by the International Rescue Committee, 73 percent of Iraqis said they were eating less to save money, while more than 60 percent had taken loans to make ends meet.

Said Attiya, who runs a clothes store, said business was down 95 percent on last year.

For Eid in 2019, he hired eight vendors. This year, he is on his own, opening the store only five hours a day.

Many other stores in Basra, he said, have closed "because you can't import anything and many can't even pay the rent".

For Ahmed Nejem, another resident, it's hard to stay at home during the holidays, traditionally a time for family gatherings.

"This year, we're not going out and we can't even buy for presents for the kids," he said.

Animated messages, most decorated with flowers, others jokes, sent on social media apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook have taken the place of family visits.

In one such animation, a sheep, spared the slaughter because of costs, merrily sings: "We are celebrating with our masks. It's Eid, I'm wearing my gloves. It's Eid and I won't kiss anyone."