Baghdad: As violence in Iraq has worsened with attacks hitting a wider array of targets, security officials have held an unusual seminar for cafe owners -- how to stop a suicide bomber.
From employing private security guards to reducing the number of open entrances, officials gave tips on spotting and deterring militants, hoping to curb the country's worst wave of violence since 2008.
Shootings and bombings have struck all manner of targets in Baghdad and elsewhere, but cafes -- where football-mad Iraqis often gather to watch the latest European games -- have been badly hit.
Nearly 50 cafes have been bombed nationwide since unrest surged in April -- 25 in Baghdad alone. The most recent -- a suicide bombing in the southwestern neighbourhood of Bayaa -- killed 15 people on November 21.
"The security situation faced by cafes means they should appoint one or two guards and close all but one entrance to control the flow of people and stop terrorists who wear explosives belts and want to kill people in cold blood," said Major General Saad Jaafar, deputy chief of Baghdad's security command centre.
Jaafar also suggested that cafe proprietors instal security cameras.
"The security forces need help from Iraqi citizens," he said, adding quickly: "This does not mean the security forces are unable to protect the citizens."
The violence has hit wide swathes of the population, from security forces and government officials to civilians visiting cafes, mosques and football pitches, with people killed at all times of day and night.
In all, more than 6,000 have been killed this year nationwide and nearly 950 in November alone, according to an AFP tally of reports from security and medical officials.
Measures to tackle the bloodshed include essentially barring half of the cars from Baghdad's streets on any given day, to trumpeting operations against militants that officials say have led to hundreds of arrests and the killing of dozens more.
But the violence has not ceased, hurting trade for cafe owners whose businesses are typically packed for matches ranging from Spain's La Liga to Britain's Premier League, as well as the exploits of Iraq's national team.
"Our work has fallen off a lot as a result of the terrorist attacks of recent months," said Mousa Mohammed, the owner of a cafe in Amil neighbourhood, which itself suffered a twin bombing on October 20 that killed 40 people.
Mohammed attended the seminar and said he was unlikely to follow all of the suggested measures.
"Appointing security guards at the entrance of the cafe and closing all the doors except for one will mean people will be completely unwilling to visit our cafes.
"They are the sources of our livelihoods," Mohammed said.
Some owners, including Mohammed Mustafa whose cafe is in Bayaa where the November 21 attack happened, took the advice to heart but also urged the security forces to increase patrols, especially in areas frequented by large numbers.
One suggestion from security officials was roundly rejected -- that cafe owners close at 8:00 pm to prevent increasingly frequent evening attacks that have rocked the capital.
"After the terrorist attacks on cafes, the security forces in our neighbourhood asked us to close, especially when Real Madrid is playing Barcelona and the cafes are packed," said Abdelaziz Youssif, whose cafe is in the Jamiyah district.
He was referring to the fierce following that any clash between the Spanish football rivals, known as the Clasico, engenders in Iraq.
"Is there any cafe in the world that closes its doors when Real Madrid and Barcelona are playing?" Youssif asked incredulously.