Back in Baghdad for the first time this year, I was consumed by the issue of change. What's different, I would ask almost every Iraqi I met. "What about you, what do you see that's new?", they would query in their turn. So here, in a few paragraphs, is a summary of my answers. Some things have changed for the better, others for the worse. Let's start with the positive.
Security is massively improved. Fears of random abduction and murder are reduced. The frequency of car bombs is down. Whereas Iraqis rarely left their homes, except for work and some hurried shopping, people dare to go out in the evening. Some 50,000 attended the finals of the national football championship in Baghdad the other night, a crowd which would have been anxious of being the target of a suicide attack this time last year.
Was it the "surge" of 30,000 extra troops which did it? That played a role, but the more important and larger "surge" was the Iraqi one. Iraqi police and army units are everywhere in Baghdad, while US troops are rarely to be seen. Uniformed Iraqis stand guard or sit in vehicles at virtually every cross-roads and roundabout in Baghdad. They man checkpoints every few hundred yards, observing traffic, occasionally pulling a driver over, and keeping an eye on each other. A year ago, the police were suspects themselves, often involved in sectarian brutality. Now, the police have been cleaned up, not yet fully, but enough to make a difference, especially with the army standing close by to watch them.