MOSUL (AFP) – Mountains of kitchen supplies, back-to-back butchers: the historic wholesale market in Iraq’s Mosul is battling the odds -- from terrorists to epidemic -- to revive the city’s reputation as a trading hub.
The northern city was a commercial hub for centuries, strategically located along transport routes linking Baghdad to the south, Syria to the west, Turkey further north and Iran in the east.
Thirty years ago, Mosul opened a bulk market known as "Al-Bursa,” whose shops sold food, homeware and other goods directly to consumers as well as to smaller shops.
"The market raked in around 12 to 13 million dollars every month,” said economist Mohammad Naef, a native of Mosul.
But those golden days came to a screeching halt in 2014, when the Daesh terrorist group began a brutal reign over Mosul that ended in 2017 after months of fierce fighting.
West Mosul, where Al-Bursa lies, was left in ruins -- but its entrepreneurial residents have worked hard to revive it.
The first to return was young Abdallah Mahmud, who sells cleaning supplies and is proud of Al-Bursa’s heritage.
"The Bursa opened in 1990 and as the years went by, these simple little shops became the most important market in the whole province,” said Mahmud, 27.
Of the 500 shops there in 2014, around 300 have already reopened with individual financing, he said.
The level of trade has made an impressive recovery but has yet to reach pre-Daesh levels.
"Today, Al-Bursa’s monthly transactions cap at between eight to ten million, as many businessmen fled and never came back,” said Naef.
Mosul and the broader Nineveh province saw the highest rates of displacement during the war against Daesh.
Even after the guns fell silent, many families hesitated to return as large parts of the city still lacked key services including water, electricity or schools.
Al-Bursa represents a return to normalcy.
On any given morning, shoppers flood Al-Bursa on foot, in cars or by motorcycle to pick up everything from children’s toys to coffee or freshly ground spices.
Customers say it’s a one-stop-shop for all their needs, but wholesalers find it convenient, too.
"It saves me crazy amounts of time and tons of energy. Before, I had to go sell at each of the little markets in the towns outside of Mosul,” said farmer Khalaf Oweid.
"Now, I come here early in the morning and the owners of the little shops all come to me to stock their own stalls. I don’t have to put myself out like before.”
Shopkeepers are also struggling to compete with cheaper, mass-produced imports from Iraq’s neighbors, including Turkey.