BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - When Iraqi merchant Jabar Mohamed was growing up in the southern port city of Basra, he liked to watch boats gliding along a canal lined with palm trees and ancient buildings near his home. Once dubbed the “Venice of the Middle East” for its network of canals resembling the Italian city, Basra was a magnet for Middle Eastern tourists until the early 1980s. Today the cherished canal of Mohamed’s youth is a reeking, refuse-filled cesspool forcing passersby to cover their mouths. It is a showcase for the virtual absence of public services in a country plagued by turmoil, corruption and decay since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. “Basra was once a wonderful place,” said Mohamed, 52, who runs a grocery shop established by his father in 1966 in a street full of traditional dwellings that are falling apart. “But we’ve had wars and neglect,” he said, pointing to the illegible scrawl on a wooden post from the 1960s - the last time Iraqi authorities put up street signs in the city of 2.5 million people, Iraq’s second largest, just upstream from the Gulf. Basrawis interviewed at random said they would not vote in Saturday’s parliamentary election or, even if they do, had lost faith that officials would restore their city to its old glory. A shopping mall, some five-star hotels and elegant restaurants have sprung up in Basra since 2003 thanks to steady oil money - much of Iraq’s crude comes from fields nearby - as well as port facilities and an international airport. In Iraq's crumbling Basra, a yearning for a glorious past Ya know, maybe the next group will rebuild and restore.