It was his beloved bakery that brought Abdul Karim back to his hometown in western Iraq, almost four years after escaping ISIL.

 

 

Abdul Karim’s bakery is no bigger than a few square metres. Packed on the shelves are a multitude of Iraqi breads and sweets, lined up neatly in rows.

His wide and welcoming grin makes clear his passion for baking. Before we even introduce ourselves, Abdul Karim offers us some sweet, sticky bread straight out of the oven. He refuses to take no for an answer.

“Please, take something. Consider this your house,” he says.

Situated in a city called Anah, west of Iraq, his bakery was the first shop to open in the Municipality Market 25 years ago.

It was here — in West Anbar province — where ISIL infiltrated Iraq, largely due to its close proximity to the Syrian border and the tensions that ensued after 2011. Anah was one of the first areas to be taken over by the militants in June 2014, and one of the last to be liberated.

 

(L) Abdul Karim serves his famous baclava; (R) Colourful Iraqi biscuits for sale at the bakery

 

In his escape to safety, Abdul Karim was forced to close his shop, like all the other vendors in the market. He fled to Baghdad and stopped work for more than three years. Despite having a degree in Agricultural Studies and 25 years’ experience as a baker, he was unable to find a job.

“What could I do? There was nothing for me. For nearly four years I just waited,” he says. Despite the sadness, he still smiles.

 

The newly-refurbished Anah Municipality Market, which sustained heavy damage during ISIL’s occupation

 

When the city was finally liberated in December 2017, he was delighted to return home. “Words can’t describe how I felt when I came back to my bakery. I was just so happy — this place brings me so much joy.”

Today, 80% of displaced people have returned to Anah and with basic infrastructure and services being restored every day, as well as an improved security situation, more people are expected to come home.

 

Abdul Karim sells bread with one of his employees in his bakery

 

For Abdul Karim, business is a little different now. It was his baclava that once brought in droves of people — but these days, a simpler samoun (traditional Iraqi bread) is his best-seller.

“People have lower incomes than before, so they’re not spending money on buying delicacies like they used to,” he says. “But hopefully this will change. I can’t complain though, I’m just happy to be back. I love my job and I want to work here until I get old.”

We ask why.

“Well, from a few raw, basic ingredients, I can make delicious things: bread, cakes, baclava. Try some and see for yourself,” he beckons.

And this time, we don’t say no.

Anah Municipality Market was rehabilitated with the support of UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS), as part of the United Nations Development Programme in Iraq.

Photos: UNDP Iraq/Claire Thomas

About UNDP’s work in Iraq

At the request of the Government of Iraq, UNDP established the Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) in June 2015 to facilitate the return of displaced Iraqis after the ISIL conflict, lay the groundwork for reconstruction and recovery, and safeguard against the resurgence of violence and extremism.

FFS currently has more than 3,000 projects in 31 liberated towns and districts, helping local authorities quickly rehabilitate essential infrastructure and services.

 

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