Satellite dishes big sellers in Baghdad
Stars and Stripes June 12, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Ahh, capitalism.
“Yes, this is capitalism at its best,” said Ali Khalis, who parked himself and his minivan on a busy downtown street to sell satellite dishes, receiver boxes and related services.
“This is my new income and it is good,” the former air-conditioning repairman said through a translator.
Everyone wants a satellite, he said. “With no or little power, no one uses air conditioning. I had to make a living.”
And business is good, he said. He sells some 10 dishes, boxes and related services a day for $140 to $150 a pop, he said.
Iraqis in Baghdad are starved for a link to the outside world, several people said.
“All the people are so much hungry for satellite,” said shop owner Aysar Abdullah Al-Samarai, who, following the war, converted his men’s and boys’ clothing store to a shop selling satellites, televisions, fans and other electronic goods. “It is the window to the world and we want to see what’s happened in the world.”
Business is good for him, too, and with a store from which to sell his goods, he retails about 50 a day, at slightly higher prices to cover the rent.
Former President Saddam Hussein banned all satellite receivers and dishes and cellular phone use during his reign, virtually preserving Iraqis in the central and southern part of the country in a 1960s time capsule.
However, Iraqis in the Kurdish area to the north, who had gained autonomy from Saddam’s grip following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, were protected from the ban, and satellite dishes pepper rooftops, from mansions to shacks.
In banned areas, those caught with satellites faced fines and jail time, sometimes as much as a year, said Hamid Majeed, 38, who speaks English.
“At my friend’s house, he had one. When there was a knock on the door, everyone moved fast to hide the dish. They only used a small dish.”
Now — well, things are different.
Majeed saved money for months before sauntering into Al-Samarai’s shop — with a marquee still advertising clothing — to buy the best of the best of dishes and service, he said.
“I searched for a good satellite for my home. I want high quality, so I’m buying Korean. Something [to withstand] heavy operations, the sun, the sand,” he said.
He decided on a monstrous 2-meter dish.
“I want to get 500 and 600 channels.”
In Baghdad, some residents resorted to selling personal belongings to whet their appetite for a connection to the outside.
“For buying this, I sold some of my furniture and have been saving from my pension for four or five months,” said Anwar Abdol Radha, 45, a former soldier who shopped the streets for a bargain. “We want to see news of the world. It wasn’t permitted before.”