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Q: I noticed, while touring a market in Kirkuk, Iraq, that a shop had hand prints on its facade. They look a little ghoulish. What’s up with that?

A: Some soldiers who recently patrolled the city, which has settled down markedly in recently weeks, wondered about that, too.

They came across hand prints in the front of a new perfume store last month. They asked the owner about the prints because of their resemblance to something more ominous. Insurgents often use handprints on buildings to signal that the property is theirs, troops say.

But in this case, the owner of the perfume shop said it’s a practice among some of his colleagues to slaughter a sheep, dip their hands in its blood and make prints on the outside of their buildings to ward off bad luck when opening a new business. Interpreters with the soldiers backed him up.

After hearing about that, the Americans told the owner the ritual sounded similar to the stateside traditions in which new businesses frame the first dollar that they earn.

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