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Innkeeper's log chronicles ebb and flow of Iraq war

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"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."

But, when signs of calm began to appear only several months after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, Johara saw a new group of potential foreign clients arriving: journalists and aid workers.

Initially, most gravitated to the country's two landmark hotels, the Sheraton and the Palestine Hotel, the most secure accommodations available at the time. But at roughly $80 a night, it wasn't long before a number of freelance journalists and aid workers on a budget needed something more affordable.

Soon the Johara Hotel was once again an international mixing place.

"When I saw foreigners coming back, I hoped it was going to be a sign that the situation was improving in a big way, but the opposite happened," says Johara.

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