* Huge market opens in Mosul as Islamic State retreats
* Kurdish traders bring Turkish goods back to Mosul
* Security fears, costly roadblocks remain
By Ulf Laessing
ZAKHO, Iraq, April 11 Iraqi-Kurdish trader Kasim
Dilbrin lost everything when Islamic State seized his warehouses
in Mosul. Now the militants are retreating, he is back in
business, bringing everything from baby food to flour over the
border from Turkey.
Fighting is still raging in Iraq's second largest city where
Islamic State suicide bombers and snipers are facing off against
advancing Iraqi troops and U.S.-led air strikes.
But just a few blocks from the frontline, on the
government-controlled, eastern side of the Tigris river, shops
and restaurants are springing back into life, alongside a market
filled with goods from Dilbrin and his competitors.
"We are selling 50 tonnes of flour to Mosul every week," he
said, sitting in his offices in the town of Zakho, 100km (60
miles) further north on the border with Turkey.
That is still a fraction of the 300 tonnes he used to sell
to Mosul until Islamic State arrived in June 2014 and shut down
his business because he was a Christian.
But things are changing fast. Months after Iraq's government
and its allies started an offensive against the militants,
Kurdish merchants are pushing on behind them, bringing their
Turkish produce back along reinvigorated trade routes.
"Sales have gone up by 30 to 40 percent," since the
offensive started in October, said Mosleh Ismail, a dealer in
Turkish honey and jam, also based in Zakho.
He sends a truck to Mosul four times a week, and has secured
contracts to supply the nearby Khazer camp, home to about 40,000
Under Islamic State's 2-1/2-year-long occupation of Mosul,
supply routes shifted away from Turkey to Syria - particularly
the militants' Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
Some Turkish goods got through, alongside produce from Syria
and Iran. But larger Turkish suppliers pulled out, scared off by
the closed routes and heightened security threats.
Some are still wary. "I got arrested twice by Daesh (Islamic
State) ... I won't be going back even if I lose business," said
one driver in Zakho who gave his name only as Gharib.
And many logistical problems remain. Only one route from
Zakho is open - a 200-km roundabout route via the Kurdish town
of Kalak. Traders also have to negotiate a series of often
A Reuters correspondent saw a truck driver hand over seven
bags of pasta to a soldier before he was let through a
checkpoint to eastern Mosul.
"I have to pay $35 dollar a tonne flour at checkpoints,"
said Dilbrin. "It's not really official but you can't avoid it."
But the return of the Kurdish traders has already proved a
boon for Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq
hit by low oil prices and the Baghdad government's decision to
cut off funding after the Kurdistan Regional Government started
building a crude pipeline to Turkey.
Kurdish telecoms firm Korek has been expanding to eastern
Mosul, tapping a market where people have been starved of
internet and cell phone subscriptions banned by militants.
And every day, hundreds of lorries cross the Turkish border,
pushing to reopen markets in Mosul and beyond.
"Transport costs are driving up prices," said Ismail. "But
they will go down as competition is increasing."
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)