BAGHDAD – Small glass boxes inscribed with the words "I Love You" in English sit on shelves alongside red cushions in the shape of hearts with the scene of flowers freshening the air. But no customer steps in.
"We re-arranged the entire store for Valentine’s Day, and ordered many roses," Saja, a flower seller, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, February 14.
"But only three or four young women bought flowers."
In his shop in Baghdad’s central Karrada district, florist Yussef Mohammed awaits a customer to step in to buy a Valentine’s Day gift.
"A few people bought roses yesterday but no one came in today," he said despondently.
"There are not many customers buying roses," added Mohammed, with flowers freshening the air which is otherwise heavy with fumes, dust and despair.
Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14, is named after a Christian martyr and over the years has become the day on which lovers traditionally express their feelings for each other.
"I want the best flowers for my fiancé," said a young woman as she picked up a bunch of roses and pressed them to her face, enjoying their scent.
Before the 2003 US-led invasion, Valentine’s Day celebrations were popular in Iraq.
But five years later, it seems to be fading from memory.
"There are less than 10 flower stores left in Baghdad," said florist Mohammed.
"Before the war in 2003, they were everywhere."
He remembers the day "years ago" when then President Saddam Hussein came into his shop after ordering his convoy to a halt.
"He looked around, picked up a bunch of flowers, put them down and then walked out again. His aides bought the flowers and they left," Mohammed said, blaming insecurity for the poor turnout for the Valentine’s Day.
"People are afraid of attacks. They are also hampered by the security measures which prevent them from moving freely."
At least 19 people were killed on Monday, February 11, in twin car bombings near Mohammed’s shop.
It followed the killing of nearly 100 people in two attacks by two mentally impaired women in pet markets.
"Few people remember the festival because of the security problems," said an employee in Saja’s shop.
"People are too afraid."
"It’s true," agreed Saja, the flower seller.
"People speak about bombs, attacks or power cuts more than anything else."
At one end of the store, Ayman Mohammed, 26, hesitates over which bouquet to choose for his girlfriend.
Looking at the price of the roses — between four and eight dollars each — he gives a sigh.
"I believe the best way to express one’s feelings nowadays is to send an SMS message containing a rose."
(IslamOnline and agencies)