Signs of Change on the Streets of Baghdad

Indeed, for a city that only last summer feared it would be overrun by jihadis, Baghdad feels uncannily lacking in trauma. Perhaps Iraqis have learned how to live with their fears, but ISIS feels more threatening in European capitals than it does in Baghdad. Too complacently, Iraqis talk about ISIS in the past tense, as if its defeat was a foregone conclusion. Young men drive through the streets, playing a pop song mocking ISIS’s “feminine” fighters at full volume on their car stereos. Cafés spill onto sidewalks, their tables filled with families late into the night. Hip eateries have opened around Baghdad University where dressed-up girls go to smoke water pipes. Closed by Saddam Hussein’s faith campaign in the early 1990s, the bars that tentatively reopened in 2010 are now jammed. Bartenders cheer the greater margin of freedom they have gained since Sunni and Shia militias turned their guns on each other instead of on their customers.

In the New York Review of Books, Nicolas Pelham examines two very different worlds—while ISIS destroys antiquities in northern Iraq, Baghdad sees signs of reconstruction in the south.

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