"Cheap devices in excellent condition! Come in and see with your own eyes!"
The shelves of Karbouli’s shop on the outskirts of Anbar city in western Iraq are stocked with military surplus from American troops who are withdrawing from Iraq.
His shop is not the only one. Along the street are many others doing the same thing.
Coalition forces, led by the US Army, sold the items to Iraqi dealers last summer as their presence in Iraq’s cities shrank.
There are caravans of various sizes, large containers, trailers, furniture, refrigerators and other electrical devices in the shops.
The prices for the goods are much lower than comparable goods elsewhere, so the local population is flocking to the shops in search of a good deal. People also say that the quality of the goods is much higher than those made in Iran and China that they find most commonly in Iraq’s markets.
Air conditioning units normally cost US$600. In the army surplus shops, however, they range between US$250 and US$400. A caravan, normally US$6,000 can easily be found for as little as US$3,000 in a surplus shop.
Karbouli’s 2,000 square metre shop is one of two he owns in the province. He has another of the same size on the highway between Ramadi and Fallujah. There are other similar shops around Fallujah and Haditha.
The shops are not officially licensed and are normally found in desert areas, on government-owned land.
"The government usually turns a blind eye and does not fine traders in these devices," said Karbouli.
"We are far away and so happy," he continues with a smile on his face. "We go to the desert areas because rents are so high inside the city."
Ramadi’s mayor, Latif Obaid al-Ayadah, giving the official line, says he knows of only one shop in the Ramadi area like Karbouli’s.
"The city's police closed the shop because the way it displays its devices is not acceptable," he says.
Abu Tammam used to work as a translator for the US army. Today he works as a merchant, selling devices that used to belong to the army on to people like Karbouli.
"We often play and intermediary role between the sellers, the US army, and the Iraqi buyers," he says. “Most dealers once worked with the US troops and some were contractors or investors.
"We buy all devices available from military bases as they close and we leave nothing behind. The price we pay can reach up to US$100,000 depending on the number of devices available in the base.
“Sometimes dealers dismantle the devices and sell individual parts from them to up their profits.
Some Iraqi clerics have issued a fatwa banning Iraqis from dealing with these devices because they belonged to the occupying forces.
Khalid Shakir Kubaisi, the chairman of the Scientific Council, the Directorate of the Sunni Endowment, said that dealing or cooperating with occupying forces is banned by Islam.
“The hardships and the difficult economic conditions should not be an excuse for dealing in these products.
“People should not look at the quality and prices of these devices but rather respect the fatwa issued with their regard," he said from his home in the al-Tameem in western Ramadi.
Abu Qahtan, owner of the ‘Al-Hayat’ mineral water factory in Ramadi in Anbar province, said that the US leftover devices are important to his work. He has already bought a number of electrical devices sold in these shops because of their good quality and low prices.
He claims he is not in violation of the clerics’ fatwa.
"I bought them from an Iraqi dealer, not from the Americans and I didn't hear about any fatwa dealing with that.”
Despite risking the censure of the religious authorities, the traders are conducting their business because they feel much more secure in the province since the relative stabilization of the security situation in Anbar since mid-2007, when Awakening Councils were formed to expel al-Qaeda from the region.
"In the beginning, we were afraid of being assassinated by armed groups because we sell devices which belong to the US occupation army, but up to now, at least, nobody has ever threatened us and we are working without fear," said Abu Qahtan.