It’s 9 o’clock on a chilly night in January, and the Adhamiyah animal market is teeming with visitors. There are the private zoo owners who’ve dropped by to size up the mangy lions and monkeys, and young couples sneaking furtive kisses in the shadows, ignoring the animals.
Yet here in Baghdad’s largest beast bazaar, it’s families and earnest-looking businessmen who outnumber the gawkers and flirts. And they have no interest in exotic flora and fauna. Darting among the cages, they eagerly scan mutt after mutt, dismissing each in turn. “Too small,” Mohammed Salama, a car salesman, says of the Jack Russell terriers. “Useless,” he calls the lone dachshund. It’s only when a dealer points out a new shipment of rottweiler puppies, cowering in the back of a shabby enclosure, that Salama and his children stop. “Yes, why didn’t you show us these before?” he asks. “This is what I want!”
So, it seems, do many of his countrymen. Every week, vendors ship rambunctious pups over the border from Turkey, then circulate them around Iraq. Some are dispatched directly to military installations, where they’re trained for bomb sniffing. Most, however, make their way to markets or small, roadside vendors for sale to private buyers.