<p>On a bridge over the Tigris a man feeds gulls at dawn as water taxis await the morning's first passengers.</p> <p><a href="http://www.lynseyaddario.com/">www.lynseyaddario.com</a></p>

On a bridge over the Tigris a man feeds gulls at dawn as water taxis await the morning's first passengers.

www.lynseyaddario.com

Baghdad After the Storm

Despite hardships and lingering violence, residents imagine a new version of the ancient city.

I haven't returned to Baghdad to be a war tourist, attuning my eyes to the many long shadows cast by trauma, but it's difficult not to do just that. The last time I was here I wore desert camouflage and carried an M4 carbine as a sergeant in the U.S. Army's Second Infantry Division. That was in 2003 and 2004, when there were up to 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. In the years since, I've often wondered what it must be like for Iraqis struggling to reclaim a life for themselves: the welder, the student, the taxi driver, the old woman, the couple getting married. I've also wondered how it would feel to walk down a Baghdad street without a flak vest and 210 rounds of ball ammunition strapped to my chest.

Back then, my unit escorted long, serpentine supply convoys through the city. Insurgents staged complex ambushes, driving cars loaded down with explosives. The black scorch marks of vehicles burned to the ground remained long after their hulks were removed, giving me pause whenever we passed them by. One day our squad leader yelled at my machine gunner and me to drop down from our positions in the hatches at the rear of our Stryker vehicle—and mortar rounds suddenly burst in the air, raining down a deadly spray of shrapnel. We rode through the storm of metal, hearts pounding in our chests. Memories like these reenact themselves in my mind now as we drive through the city, and for a moment I imagine I've returned to Baghdad the way a ghost might haunt the world it once inhabited.

But things have changed. This isn't the Baghdad I once knew. Just off Abu Nuwas Street near the Tigris River, where sniper fire was once a daily hazard, the sounds of war have been replaced by the sounds of children playing soccer on the grass. They whoop, high-pitched and full throated, like birds calling to each other. On Haifa Street, where bitter sectarian fighting raged from 2006 to 2008, young men pause in the doorway of a local market to finish a conversation as Iraqi pop music blares from a boombox. Near the university several young women laugh as they cradle textbooks and notebooks, their head scarves a splash of color against the drab building facades. Everywhere around Baghdad there is the sound of a city regaining its voice.

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