Innkeeper's log chronicles ebb and flow of Iraq war
Baghdad's Johara Hotel, which was once a meeting place for foreign journalists and aid workers, is now filled to capacity with Iraqis who still can't go home.
The Johara Hotel was a backpacker's delight. Rooms were just $12 at the tiny, 10-room inn that was part youth hostel and part rooming house. European, Asian, and American tourists stayed there, even as embargoes tightened on Iraq ahead of the invasion.Skip to next paragraph
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When war came, the Johara was the unofficial residence for freelance reporters, aid workers, and activists. But eventually they checked out – or left Iraq altogether – as Baghdad grew more dangerous.
Osama Johara has been forced to close his hotel twice during the war. Today, however, he has a full roster of guests. All of them are Iraqis, however, who for one reason or another have been driven from their homes and are still unable to return.
In many ways, Mr. Johara's hotel registry tells the story of the war. When the insurgency terrorized the city, guests vanished and the Johara closed. Now that car bombings and kidnappings are scarcer, he faces one of Iraq's biggest unresolved issues: What to do with its refugees from the war.
In early 2007 guests began arriving regularly again after Johara shut his doors in mid-2005. With virtually all foreigners staying in major hotels with large security budgets or private compounds, only some of Iraq's 2.7 million internally displaced people were willing to stay in Johara's inn in the city's Karada district.
"Although sectarian violence spread across the country, people thought that Karada was safe," says Johara. "Some people didn't want to go to Syria or another country, so they came to Karada and our business came back to life."
The refugees, predominately from different neighborhoods within Baghdad that are less stable than Karada, represent Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd. Johara says he's never had a problem with ethnic tensions among his guests.
His major concern about the refugees is whether they'll continue to make rent every month. While he usually manages to collect, he occasionally has to reduce rates by the equivalent of a few dollars per night.
"We lose with these Iraqis, because they don't pay their rent, so I've had to lower prices," he says.
Like millions of Iraqis, the innkeeper has been hostage to the ebb and flow of violence in Iraq, which has been anything but consistent.
"When the Americans entered Iraq, we closed up the hotel and left it because there was a war and there was no one in the building," he says. "I expected it would take at least a year before I could reopen."