Baghdad has been under a mandatory curfew since the June 13 bombing of a holy Shiite mosque in Samarra. As a result, all traffic has been banned from the streets of Baghdad, to the delight of children and families.
It was quite a scene to see hundreds of Iraqis walking down the middle of the normally-crowded streets, toddlers on Big Wheels, kids playing soccer. Whereas American kids might yell "CAR" whenever a vehicle was approaching, these kids were yelling "HUMVEE!" whenever an American military convoy approached.
This little girl was quite the ham, and kept circling and begging me to take her photo!
Last week, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of all 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, was criticized for telling USA TODAY that there were "astonishing signs of normalcy" in many parts of Baghdad. Sen. Harry Reid and others claimed Petraeus was out-of-touch with reality. But the fact of the matter is, Petraeus is right, to a point.
It always surprises me how many Americans and Westerners think that Baghdad is one giant war zone like a scene out of a Hollywood war movie. They imagine scenes from the D-Day invasion of Normandy from "Saving Private Ryan", or perhaps the "Tet Offensive" battle scene in "Full Metal Jacket." Even some of my own friends and families think that I'm hunkered down in a bunker 24-7 while bombs and bullets are flying over my head. That just isn't the case.
In many parts of the country, life goes on. Schools are open. Markets and restaurants are thriving. Wedding parties led by elaborately-decorated cars cruise down the strip on Thursday nights, sometimes accompanied by fireworks at the reception hall near my house. Kids still play like kids, whether it's the middle of the road during the curfew, or the dusty trash-strewn field by the canal. Families stroll through the Baghdad zoo and theme park on weekends. People go about their mundane errands of everyday life.
I'm not downplaying the violence in Iraq, because we are still at war. It's impossible to travel to many parts of Baghdad or Iraq for fear of being killed by either IEDs, car bombs, mortars, rocket attacks, Al Qaeda, Mahdi Army militias, Iranians, kidnappers, sectarian violence, coalition military operations, gangland wars, random street thugs. Pick your poison.
We are at war. But it's a much more complex than most people can possibly imagine, and nearly impossible to explain in a concise television soundbite. Perhaps the best way to describe the Iraq war is "random".
The war is simultaneously everywhere and it is nowhere.