Is Baghdad safer? Yes and no.
Although sections of the city remain war zones – and attacks are up outside Baghdad – there are pockets of relative calm emerging.
Is the two-month-old security push in Baghdad working?Skip to next paragraph
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In places, yes. But every day brings conflicting evidence. This week, a US official reported a 26 percent decline in civilian deaths from February to March in the capital.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Iraq parliament's cafeteria in the heavily fortified Green Zone. He also killed one Sunni lawmaker, Mohammed Awad. That attack came hours after a truck bomb destroyed one of seven major bridges in Baghdad. [Editor's note: The original version mischaracterized the cafeteria's location.]
Although sections of the city remain war zones – and attacks are up outside Baghdad – there are new pockets of relative calm emerging. For some Baghdadis, the security plan is starting to provide an opportunity for a few simple pleasures: a meal in a restaurant, a stroll inside heavily guarded parks and gardens, or a quick shopping trip despite the uncertain outlook.
Overall, there has been a drop in sectarian-related murders and daily bombings due to the stepped up presence of US and Iraqi forces on the streets. The troop "surge" is not expected to reach full strength until June.
In Mansour, a once upscale area that until a few weeks ago was a ghost town because of the violence, some shops have reopened and people can be seen browsing windows or buying ice cream cones at Al-Rawad, a favorite of Baghdadis.
"Two months ago we had no one; now business has improved by 65 percent," says Lamia Ali, a salesperson at the Grand bridal store.
Aseed Yasin is shopping with his fiancée Zeinab Samir to pick a wedding dress because all shops in their predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Amiriyah were shut, he says, due to a rocket attack on the market on Tuesday.
"The situation is unbearable, we are getting married on Thursday and then off to Syria," he says.
A birthday celebration out
Earlier this week, Ahmed Yaqthan and his wife Samar Mahdi mused about the potential for a suicide bomber to walk into the crowded restaurant where they had ventured out for lunch to celebrate her birthday.
"I say whatever God has fated will happen," says Mrs. Mahdi, who is without a veil and dressed in a fashionable blouse – a rare sight in an increasingly conservative society.
The city's go-areas tend to be in the center and can be counted on one hand. On Tuesday, a day before their restaurant outing, Mahdi and Mr. Yaqthan were huddled for hours at their offices at the state audit board on the city's west bank on Haifa Street, about a mile from the fortified Green Zone. The couldn't leave because of heavy clashes between insurgents and US and Iraqi forces in the Sheikh Omar and Al-Fadhil areas just across the river.
At least seven people were killed, including four Iraqi soldiers, and 16 US soldiers were wounded in the fighting which involved Apache helicopters, according to the US military.
"When things calmed down a bit we just took an alternative route and went home," says Yaqthan, a bespectacled computer programmer speaking over the sound of Arabic pop songs streaming from loudspeakers overhead.