Profits of doom: Mosul mechanics swamped as bombs shatter city

MOSUL (Reuters) - Business is booming for Mosul car repair shop owner Khaled Younes, a sign of the havoc wreaked on the Iraqi city that has become the focus for the international war on Islamic State.

Workers fix cars at an industrial neighborhood of Mosul, Iraq, January 31, 2017. Picture taken January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

Suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, mortar attacks and airstrikes have wiped out everything in their path, including parked cars, and pulverized much of the northern city that was once a bustling trade hub. The twisted metal wreckage of vehicles can be seen on many streets.

“Business is great. It is up by 50 percent,” said Younes, instructing workers to attend to customers as he frantically glued together the windshield of a vehicle damaged by a mortar bomb.

He and fellow car repair business owners are just about the only people turning a profit as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces press ahead with an offensive to drive Islamic State out of their last urban stronghold in Iraq.

Mosul’s public transportation has been devastated by months of fighting. The mechanics are struggling to keep up with a growing number of customers who desperately need their cars to get to work and bring home food and other provisions.

Demand is set to rise further.

So far, Iraqi forces have cleared Islamic State out of eastern Mosul. The next phase of the operation - attacking western Mosul - is bound to bring in even more destruction.

Mosul is the largest city held by the jihadists and could prove pivotal to the fate of it self-declared caliphate of land of seized in Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi military officials say the militants will put up a ferocious fight to preserve their hold on the city. That means more suicide bombs, car bombs and mortar and rocket attacks.

The widespread damage to cars in Mosul speaks volumes about the intensity of battles over the last three months.

Islamic State car bombs often wreck other vehicles parked along streets. U.S.-led airstrikes cleave rooftops, sending heavy pieces of cement crashing down on cars. Mortar attacks fire shrapnel at great speed across streets - it tears through everything in its path, often killing or maiming people.

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Several car repair shops are located along a grimy, dusty lane on the eastern outskirts of Mosul, overlooking a potholed highway. They have been there for decades.

Some businesses there were closed after Islamic State swept into Mosul in 2014, largely unopposed by the army. Others went bust or were subject to the whims of the militants, who often imposed new taxes to fund their war against Baghdad.

For those shops that remain open, profits have never been so hefty.

One rickety truck arrived with about a dozen bullet holes in its windshield, probably the work of one of the many Islamic State snipers posted around the city.

The cost of vital repairs can hammer families’ finances, especially at a time when many people are unemployed and waiting for the local economy to recover while the government struggles to find funding for reconstruction.

“A rocket hit my house and part of the house landed on my car,” said Raghid Mohamed, a 35-year-old teacher, referring to his battered 1990 Mazda.

Beside him, market trader Nizzar Jassem, 50, said it would cost him 600,000 Iraqi dinars ($500) to fix his car, damaged by a piece of rubble that crashed on it after an airstrike, while his monthly income is only 200,000 dinars.

As he spoke, another customer who had only one seat left in his car pulled up. The queues on the lane sometimes form as early as six in the morning. Garages are filled to capacity.

“I have to repair three cars. One was damaged by the Iraqi army. Islamic State burned the other two to put up smokescreens to avoid airstrikes,” said another customer, Samir Abid.

It could have been much worse.

Repair shop owner Ayad Mohamed said, like Younes, his profits were up by half since the fighting began - but he has paid a heavy price for the destruction boosting his income.

One day as the army and jihadists exchanged fire, a mortar bomb killed his son and grandson.

Editing by Pravin Char