Baghdad’s Bab Al-Sharqi, or eastern gate, neighborhood, which was targeted by Thursday’s terrorist attack, is the poor’s principal place of residence and work in the capital. There, sectarian, national and ethnic disputes imposed by politics are absent and replaced by the common pursuit of putting food on the table.
In the always terrified Baghdad, many historic gates and walls were erected to protect it from cruel and covetous invaders over the centuries.
On the side of Al-Karkh, there are the babs (gates) of Kufa, Al-Sham (Damascus), Khorasan and Al-Basra that were destroyed over time. And on the Rusafa side, there are the gates of Al-Sheikh, Al-Wastani, Al-Agha and Al-Sharqi, the site of Thursday’s attack that left dozens dead and wounded.
The area that extends to the end of Rashid Street is the site of the gate to the Baghdad wall during the Ottoman era. According to historians, it looked like a tower and was subsequently used as a church after the British occupation of Baghdad in 1917 before being demolished soon after, in 1937.
The Bab Al-Sharqi neighborhood, in previous decades, was known as the capital’s beating heart and its preeminent urban center with its modern buildings, cinemas, various retail stores, and its renowned restaurants, bars and cafes.
Since “in Iraq short periods trump all else,” as one writer puts it, misfortune triumphed. With the advent of the 1990s, the international blockade did away with the Bab Al-Sharqi’s glory, and it became a haven for the poor and the destitute, sellers of used clothes, thieves and alcoholics.
Since the 1990s, which were terrifying in their harshness, the area’s glory has become limited to being home to antiques and a center for selling all sorts of used goods.
Thursday’s suicide attack wasn’t the first to target the area. Many others preceded it during the violent post-2003 years, and it might not be the last. And while it’s clear that the terrorists’ goal has little to do with Bal Al-Sharqi, the explosion is another wind of misfortune to blow in the neighborhood that had once been the heart of Baghdad.