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'Thank God you are safe': Baghdad rebuilds after Ramadan attacks

IS this week hit Ramadan crowds at an ice-cream parlour in Baghdad. Within a day the crowds were back, defiant in their wish to carry on
'Life must go on': Muhanad Hassan, at his store next to Faqma (MEE/Ahmed Twaij)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The festive greeting of "Ramadan Kareem" has been replaced by whispers of "thank God you are safe" at al-Faqma ice-cream parlour.

Sombre glances are exchanged by those who returned to this site, only a day after an Islamic State car bomb killed at least 15 people nearby.

"That night was horrible," said Muntasar al-Mashhadani, the assistant manager of al-Faqma, of the attack late on Monday night in the Karrada district.

"Wherever you walked, wherever you looked you could see blood."

Employees of al-Faqma clean up debris (MEE/Ahmed Twaij)

But Iraqis refuse to be cowered by terrorism.

As the sun set on Tuesday evening, crowds returned to break their fast, turning a simple celebration with their loved into an act of defiance against those who would prey on their happiness.

"The atmosphere [during Ramadan] is beautiful," said al-Mashhadani. "People are always smiling."

For a city that usually closes down by 10pm, wracked by years of insecurity and the constant threat of violence, Ramadan has becomes something of a release valve.

"During Ramadan the load on our restaurant massively increases," said Ali, a 25-year-old manager at a restaurant near al-Faqma. 

"To cater for the high volume of customers we have had to stop serving a set menu and offer only an open buffet."

Crescent-shaped lights and lanterns light otherwise gloomy-looking roads, and shops and restaurants stay open to sunrise to cater for gleeful customers. 

The ice-cream parlour being repaired by Ahmed Jasim (MEE/Ahmed Twaij)

And mere hours after the devastating attack, the latest of several in Karrada alone, the city has moved on. 

Builders came to al-Faqma in the day to plaster over cracks and repoint the walls. 

Streets were swept, shrapnel cleared and blood washed away. 

We have to continue after each bomb

- Ahmed Jasim

"We have to continue after each bomb," said Ahmed Jasim, a 24-year-old builder stood under a blood-stained shop sign only hours before. "Life must go on." 

"When I heard the news [of the bomb] I felt nothing," says Duha Hashim, a local journalist in the city. "We expect this now."  

Two further bombs shook the city within hours of the attack on the ice-cream store.

But shop owner Muhanad Hassan does not flinch: "If we let these attacks affect us, they win, so for us, life must continue."

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