Baghdad at night
Greetings from Baghdad. Before I am became McClatchy’s Pentagon correspondent and honored member of the Nukes and Spooks trifecta, I was our Baghdad bureau chief. I was here at the height of the violence, when we woke up everyday to bombings, when we didn’t bat an eye at 70 bodies in the street, when a good week meant that none of our friends or sources had been killed.
It was an exhausting experience; everyday felt like a roll of the dice. And yet it came to define normal for us. Would the staff survive the illegal checkpoints, the ethnic cleansing of their streets or an unannounced raid by police forces with inscrutable motives? Everyday, I mentally prepared myself for news that one of our staffers had been killed on the way to work or out on a story. By the end of my tenure, I could not bring myself to send them anywhere, frightened to push the odds.
Once, after a particularly violent day, I thought to myself, “One day, I will look back at this time and think how crazy we all are to stay here.”
Today, that day came.
It happened as we drove around Baghdad to see how things changed. We went to neighborhoods I never thought I would see again, let alone at night. Street lights illuminated the shopping districts and bustling customers. People were hanging out of their cars to celebrate weddings. Couples were enjoying dinner, sitting next to windows, without the fear of a car bomb. It was so ordinary and yet almost magical.
Now, I don’t want to overstate where things are. Most of the city is silent and dark again by 9 p.m. and throughout there were blast walls and barriers to keep people from parking. And no one is sure how long this will last. But for the first time in years, Baghdad felt almost like a normal city to me.
Everywhere we went, I drove by places where two years ago, we had just missed an IED or car bomb or some other unspeakable violence, places where I almost didn’t make it, indeed where friends and sources didn't make it. Today those places are safe. I saw the madness we were once living under. Why did I stay? What was I thinking?
I think back then it was inconceivable that there would ever be any other reality. Had I know then that things could be like this, maybe I would have seen the insanity of what we were living more clearly.