March 5, 2007
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Baghdad and Books

The Baghdad Book Industry, with its market in Mutanabbi Street, was once the center of Western civilization and an essential link to the memory of the Greek and Roman technical achievement.

The street runs between the Tigris river and al-Rashid Street, now shabby and decayed but once the commercial heart of Baghdad. The bookshops are small and open all the time, on Fridays there is a market, when vendors lay out their books in Arabic and English on mats on the dusty and broken surface of the road, which is closed to traffic. Most books are second-hand. — Patrick Cockburn, The Occupation

Today, in a story that didn't make the Boston Globe, Mutanabi street is in flames.

As firemen doused the flames which reached up to the third storey of some buildings, papers and book pages fluttered on the ground, some blackened, others bloody.