Changes on theground
Today I visited a Baghdad neighborhood that used to be the heartland of Al Qaeda, and Sunni insurgents. Ameriyah was a war zone, from which Shiite residents and many decent Sunnis were driven out, and car bombs directed outwards, often directly onto the airport road which runs alongside the neighborhood. This place was once so dangerous, that, even on my last trip a year ago when much in Baghdad had improved, I was cautioned not to go there. Even this time, I walked accompanied at a distance by three U.S. soldiers. But I got the feeling that I would be safe coming back on my own. The change is incredible. Shops have reopened, vendors of toys, clothing and kebobs line the sidewalks, the streets are full, and I even saw a couple of women without headscarfs. Shoppers and vendors were willing to talk to me on the street, even with U.S. soldiers standing a few yards away. Some, not all, were willing to give their names. Iraqi soldiers and police now man checkpoints instead of Americans, who will be moving out of the district by next June 30. Shiite families are still reluctant to move back, I was told by one relative of some who fled to save their lives. But everyone with whom I spoke emphasized that they thought the civil war was over, and they just wanted to get on with their lives. Interestingly, some said they wished the US soldiers weren't leaving. They told me that, although they didn't like a foreign presence, they needed the Americans as protection against the feared influence of Iran and the Shiite militias sponsored by Tehran.