State

Changes notable in Iraq's capital

Baghdad is much more confusing than it was half a year ago.

The blast walls that towered over sidewalks and blocked traffic are coming down. We've got a mix of stories in the works about what this city is like for the people who are returning to their homes and jobs.

That doesn't mean the streets are safe. More than 100 people were killed this week in bombings around the country.

It's hard to tell what the targets are, except for mosques. The attackers are definitely taking aim at places of worship, which probably means they want to incite violence between believers.

A bombing Monday in Baghdad hit streets filled with day laborers. Who could predict that?

Sunday, my partner Hammad gave me a tour of the city. He was able to show me much more than he could in the winter simply because roadblocks and checkpoints are being removed. I can keep my passport in my pocket, which makes me feel a heck of a lot more comfortable than pulling it out over and over to hand it to a guy carrying an AK-47 at a roadblock.

Hammad was thrilled to be able to drive through what were parts of the Green Zone, checking out monuments and buildings he hadn't seen from a car since 2003.

We didn't see Americans at all. Instead we had Iraqi army and Iraqi police blazing through the city in pickup trucks, sirens wailing for unclear reasons.

Of course, a tour of Baghdad is unlike any other:

"This bridge we're driving over was blown up by a truck bomb and crashed into the Tigris."

"This is where a sniper almost got me on an embed with the Iraqi army."

"These tunnels were closed after a truck parked inside and exploded."

The good news is that all of the places are safe enough to visit now.

I was struck by the number of pharmacies selling wheelchairs for the disabled. I must have spotted 10 within three blocks near the center of the city.

That's a sad reminder of the toll the Iranian war, the gu;f war and, most of all, five years of widespread sectarian violence took on this city.

I'm highlighting the threats because I'm justifiably sensitive to them right now. But it's not a city under siege by any means.

Hammad and I walked out to eat the other night. Our cook was blessed with an opportunity to visit Mecca, so we're scrambling for grub most days.

I was glad to stretch my legs. Families packed an outdoor ice cream store. Our restaurant, likewise, was full of people young and old, most of them eating in an outdoor patio to enjoy the warm night. Many, many more people were out on the town than when I ate at restaurants in November and December.

We turned in, although it seemed as if Baghdad was just waking up.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton is on a two-month assignment in Iraq for McClatchy Newspapers.

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