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Iraq blast barrier maker enjoys boom times
( 2003-10-23 21:23) (Reuters)

Suicide bombers may be bad news for most people, but for a top Iraqi maker of hulking blast barriers the attacks shaking Baghdad mean boom times.

Iraq's 77 Company, whose concrete barricades wall off embassies, hotels housing foreigners and at lease one US military base, has seen sales go up 40 percent in the last three months, said administrative manager Herish Mohammed al-Tayar.

"We've had to go to two shifts, from one before," al-Tayar said in a telephone interview. "We've put up five or six km (three or four miles) of these blocks on the streets of Baghdad."

In the chaos of Baghdad's suicide bombings, there has been one constant -- 77 Company's blocks, whose three models weigh in at six, 10 and 18 tonnes.

Blocks put up just days before guarded the Turkish embassy against a car bomber who killed himself and wounded 10 people. Part of a barrier was blown over in an attempt on the Baghdad Hotel last week that killed seven people, including the bomber.

The blocks encase the Sheraton and Palestine hotels, home to much of the foreign press corps, security companies and Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton unit handling much of Iraq's reconstruction work.


Al-Tayar said his cement company, based in Arbil, about 300 km (200 miles) north of Baghdad in Iraq's Kurdish region, was making about 250 blocks a day.

"It's a big difference for our company, because before we worked only in Kurdistan. Now we get orders nationwide," he said.

The blocks are made out of specially formulated reinforced concrete. The basic models are the waist-high Jersey, the mid-sized Texas, and the roughly four-metre-high (14-feet-high) Alaska. Prices range from $200 to $1,200 each.

Some Baghdad residents complained that the grey blocks congest already snarled traffic, block off businesses and deface much of the city.

"It doesn't look nice," 77 Company worker Sabah Hasan, 21, said this week as he rigged Alaska blocks being erected at the Turkish embassy to a crane. "It makes the streets worse, there are too many traffic jams and it cuts off roads."

Mohammed Aliya, a 36-year-old computer store owner, said the installation of 77 Company blocks at the French diplomatic mission up his street, had contributed to a sharp drop in sales.

"We used to blame (ousted dictator) Saddam Hussein for having extreme security measures, like sealing off city blocks, but now it's the same if not worse," he said.

Al-Tayar claimed that 77 Company's sales were far ahead of competitors. Repeated calls to other Iraqi cement companies went unanswered.

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