Businesses struggle to recover in Kurdish capital following Ainkawa bombing

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The April 17 Erbil car bomb attack that killed two people outside the US Consulate in Ainkawa may have faded into the headlines, but for shop owners on the once prosperous strip, times are tough following new security regulations and the cost of repairs.

“The damage was maybe $200,000, because everything inside burned,” said Volkan Girişmen, 34, the co-owner and manager of the destroyed Nelly’s bakery. Nelly’s was ground zero for the blast, and despite modest repairs, remains a gutted and blackened skeleton of its former self. Its shelves and equipment were severely burned, most of them beyond repair.

Surveying what remained of his shop in early May, Girişmen sifted through the charred wreckage of his kitchen and outdoor seating area. The bomb’s two victims were regular customers of his, he said pointing to where they died. Girişmen said he is considering leaving the neighborhood. A combination of bad memories and repair costs is forcing him to question whether he can ever work in Ainkawa again.

The Islamic State has since taken credit for the attack, which occurred at just before 6 pm on April 17. A group of ISIS sympathizers, most of whom were Kurds, managed to park a vehicle laden with explosives between Nelly’s and one of the consulate’s entrances. They then detonated their deadly cargo from a distance. The blast shattered windows and set nearby vehicles on fire. Secondary blasts were caused by fuel tanks inside some of the shops and restaurants exploding. In addition to the two deaths, at least eight were seriously injured.

Authorities have made a series of arrests in the case, but this has done little to ease the minds of weary and frightened customers. Today the consulate strip is still largely deserted of shoppers. Even the shops and cafes that avoided the worst of the initial blast and resultant fires are hurting.

“This was one of the most crowded streets in the area,” said Haitham Shabo, the owner of the Malook salon. Shabo opened the shop just a week before the attack. He said he hoped the neighborhood’s reputation for expats and trendy locals would translate into good business for a high-end hairdresser. But now, his dream is a mess of broken glass and blackened fixtures. Like Girişmen, he said he does not know if or when he will reopen.

“This street is not the strategic place it was before,” Shabo said glancing at the remains of his shop. Many owners, he added, are closing for good or picking new locations away from the consulate.

Security fears and new travel restrictions placed on foreign companies have kept many potential customers away from the consulate strip. Authorities have also placed new concrete barriers throughout the neighborhood, vastly limiting vehicle and foot traffic.

But despite the risks, at least some patrons said they would keep coming back.

“I’d rather come here and show just a little bit of defiance,” said Gavin Jackson, a 29-year-old teacher originally from the UK. While sitting at the O’Caffe across from the US Consulate and working on his computer, Jackson said he might now come to the café more often. Avoiding it, he said, would tell the bombers they had succeeded in altering people’s daily lives.