Thursday, September 06, 2007

Life goes on in Baghdad

I have been criticized on other blogs for reporting 'progress' in Iraq, but life for Baghdadis does seem to be improving somewhat. I am hopeful that life will soon return to normal for all Iraqis, although 'normal' is a relative term in Iraq.

As attacks subside, Iraqis cautiously venture out

Sept. 5, 2007, 10:18PM
Associated Press

It may be the only train still running in Baghdad.

The ride at the Zawraa park still grinds along a rusty track carrying children wearing party hats and parents in their best outfits.

In most places, such a scene signifies nothing more than a few smiles.

In Baghdad, it's a portrait of a city's troubled soul.

Far away — on Capitol Hill in Washington — the debate over U.S. policies in Iraq is filled with graphs and statistics. But perhaps a more accurate measure of where Iraq stands is found in Baghdad's streets, shops and living rooms.

The perceptions of ordinary Iraqis — about their security, future, aspirations — are probably the most sensitive gauges of whether the U.S. military and diplomatic strategies are bringing meaningful change.

For the moment, there's a growing sense of accommodation to the current level of violence.

The U.S.-led security crackdown in the capital has reduced attacks and their unpredictability — fewer big suicide bombings in markets and other public spaces.

Daily life unfolds at a cautious pace and under new rules.

Shops are open. Parks fill up on nice days. People out for a stroll can let their imagination stray far from the war with travel agencies advertising holidays to Malaysia, Turkey and Syria.

But nearly everyone remains bound by sectarian borders in their own city. Shiites stay in their neighborhoods. Sunnis do the same. The reordering of once-mixed Baghdad into separate, self-guarded enclaves is nearly complete — which perhaps has contributed to the downturn in violence as much as the troop surge.

"Business is good," smiled Hadi Qassim, the manager of Olive Branch, a men's clothing store in the mostly Shiite district of Karradah — a target of bombings and shelling blamed on Sunni extremists.

Many in Baghdad — perhaps out of resilience or denial — have welcomed the drop in violence by satisfying their hunger for any taste of normal life.

In Karradah, outdoor markets are busy. Children gobble ice cream and families munch on kebabs in outdoor restaurants. Merchants display home appliances made in South Korea, China and Iran, Coke and Pepsi bottled in Saudi Arabia or Jordan.

Power and water outages — that can stretch up to several days — feed the sense of helplessness even if the tallies in Washington show a drop in attacks in Baghdad.

"We have no electricity, no water, no gas and no nothing," said Subeiha Abed Ali, 42, a housewife with five kids in the Shiite Sadr City district.

But driving anywhere brings a different picture.

Iraqi army and police man checkpoints, hundreds of checkpoints — some at 100-yard intervals. Billboards appeal for people to reclaim their city.

"130 for the sake of Iraq," declares one billboard, referring to a phone number intensely publicized by the government for anonymous tips on suspicious activity.

"Forgive and tolerate for the sake of a united Iraq," exhorts another message that speaks to sectarian tensions.

"All we want is security. It doesn't matter who provides it," said Umm Hamza, a widow with two college-age children.

"I want my children to finish their education and get jobs," she said.

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