Iraq's Basra hosts first foreign circus in decades

Fri Nov 5, 2010 10:50am EDT
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By Aref Mohammed

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters Life!) - The Iraqi audience roared with laughter as the clowns, one fat and one thin, pretended to walk along a tightrope stretched on the ground.

They burst into delighted applause and whistles when a female animal trainer from Ukraine performed a short belly dance before presenting an eclectic mix of chimpanzees, dogs, snakes and a porcupine.

The first foreign circus to unfurl its tent flaps in southern Iraq in possibly decades has taken the oil city of Basra by storm, bringing laughter to a public grown weary of bloodshed and tears.

The traveling Monte Carlo circus and its retinue of foreign acrobats, jugglers and clowns is a sign of improved security in Basra, once ruled by gangs and militias when sectarian violence flared after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

"This is new and we've been waiting for something like this for a long time. We enjoyed it so much and I hope they come back often," said Muhanad Abdul-Wahab, a 50 year-old government engineer, who brought his daughter and son to the show.

Overall violence in Iraq has ebbed since the worst of the bloodshed between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shi'ites in 2006-07, but devastating assaults and bombings by Sunni Islamist insurgents remain common, especially in Baghdad and the north.

A siege of a Catholic church and a barrage of bombings around Baghdad has killed more than 100 people since Sunday, a reminder of Iraq's precarious state as its leaders continue to fight over a new government eight months after an election.

The Shi'ite south, by comparison, has been relatively peaceful of late. The main threats there are roadside bombs planted by Shi'ite militia aimed at the 50,000 U.S. troops who remain in Iraq ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.   Continued...

<p>A member of the Monte Carlo Circus performs during a show in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad, November 1, 2010. REUTERS/Atef Hassan</p>