Iraq's Booming Funeral Market
By Afif Sarhan
BAGHDAD – With deadly attacks still claiming more lives in the war-torn country, the funeral market in Iraq has turned from a simple work into a booming business.
"Before US-led invasion, I had one ceremony to take care," mourner Ali Abdel-Kareem al-Shuwafi, 48, told IslamOnline.net on Friday, October 30.
"But in the last four years, I had to hire 12 employees and other 15 who are used when we have many ceremonies to hold in the same day.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence plaguing Iraq since the US invaded the country in 2003 to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.
"Violence in Iraq changed my life. I know that it isn't a nice sentence to say but it is the true," said Shuwafi.
"The continuing killings in my country helped me become a wealthy man and able to give a very good life to my family who years ago were suffering with the need of everything."
Before the US invasion, Shuwafi was hardly able to provide basics to his family.
But his life has totally changed after the US troops invaded the oil-rich country.
"I decided to open a shop in Baghdad two years ago which takes care of everything, the three days mourning process, the burying and other ceremonies asked by our clients," he said.
Shuwafi had borrowed money from a friend of his to open his shop.
"After few months, I had enough to pay him back and open more two shops, one in Baghdad and one in Basra where my brother takes care," he said.
"I know I'm successful today because of people suffering, however, I didn't kill them and just made a way for families to be well supported in a so hard moment of their lives.
"The war changed my life for better but I sometimes I wish that things were like before and I would had been able to improve my living conditions under other ways offered by the government."
Like Shuwafi, many mourning professionals have made a fortune from the deadly violence.
"There was periods where I had to refuse ceremonies because I didn't have enough materials to organize it," Kamal al-Jumeiri, a funeral business owner in Baghdad, told IOL.
"During 2006 and 2007 I was able to make enough money to send my family away to Jordan to protect them and I use to visit my kids and wife every three months.
"My family accuse me of taking advantage and making money from people who were victims but someone had to make it and I had enough conditions to offer my skills."
Jumeiri recalls that he only owned two coffins to run his business before the US invasion.
"After violence in 2006, I had enough money to open two shops," he said.
"By two trucks, I import supplies from outside with better quality, offer a proper burial with all stuff needed like chairs for the mourners, recorders, speakers, people to read Qur'anic verses, kitchen apparatus to cook food during the three days ceremony, generators, tents and other specific things that sometimes is asked by grieving families."
According to Iraqi traditions, families rent tents for the three days of mourning and professional mourners to add emotions by crying while speaking verses of the Qur'an.
In addition, coffee, tea and cigarettes should be offered to visitors during the three days of mourning.
In the last day, food is cooked and offered to all people present, including poor people who usually get close to get free food.
"I moved from a simple mourning workers into a first-class business and most of my clients have wealthy living conditions and hire my work due to my excellent materials used," said Jumeiri.
The booming funeral market is also sparking rivalry among mourning professionals.
"I suffered threats from other mourning professionals," said Jumeiri.
"Many of them, not all, have organised gangs to prevent us from keeping work and leave all ceremonies to them but I insisted and have to pay a security guard to follow me."
Prices for the funeral services have skyrocketed over the violence.
"I lost my father before invasion from heart disease and didn't spend more than US $50 for all ceremony and coffin," Haydar Muhammad Khalif, a government employee, told IOL.
"But two months ago, my uncle was killed and we had to pay US $300 for the same ceremony, without any changes."
Coffins now cost about $80, from only $10 before the US invasion.
A complete ceremony would cost from $150 to $400, from only $60 before the invasion.
"Even to die in Iraq you have to have enough money or you will have to be buried without proper Iraqi Muslim traditions," said Khalif.
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