On Christmas Eve in the Green Zone, karaoke is blaring into the night from a contractor's villa while U.S. troops use a sniffer dog to check for car bombs just a block away.
Today is a Muslim holiday, so the traffic through Baghdad's Nasoor Square was light. When I went out to take a look, Iraqi police ate lunch on a bench near their traffic booth and greeted passing colleagues with hugs and handshakes near the red fire truck stationed along the sprawling roundabout.
There was oil in little jars, gyrating on swiveling chrome and glass shelves along with kerosene and gasoline. On display were scale models and designs of gas stations that could be built in the future and pieces of pipeline skillfully welded by Iraqi technicians.
While American politicians debate who's a maverick willing to take on the establishment, Iraq's Mithal al-Alusi meets the criteria and pays the price. In the latest in a series of battles with what he calls the "fascist" religious parties running the government, Alusi was banned from parliament for making his third trip to Israel—or, the "Zionist entity" as it's known in official Iraqi correspondence.
Perhaps the most famous of Hammurabi's legal codes was the tooth thing. Written in Mesopotamia about 2,700 years ago, it read, roughly, "If a man has knocked out the tooth of a man of the same rank, they shall knock out his tooth." There was the eye-for-an-eye clause, of course, and then many more intricate instructions.
Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Husseini Sistani has had some ups and downs lately but he's still the most influential person in Iraq. The latest reminder came today when he signaled–signaling is about as explicit as he gets on these kinds of issues–that he would not oppose the status of forces agreement (SOFA) between Iraq and the United States.
Several times a month, the U.S. military sends out press releases announcing the discovery of hidden weapons caches. Those can be newly smuggled mortars held by insurgents for use against American bases or, usually, old rifles and ammo left behind by Saddam Hussein's armies.
Every Ramadan, in neighborhoods around Baghdad, groups of men face off in the streets. But they are engaged in a battle of wits, not arms, as they play a game called "mahaibis" or "little ring." One team cloaks itself behind a large cloth and hides a ring in the fist of one of its players.
A meeting today in the Rasheed Hotel's faded ballroom was meant to reassure America's tribal allies. But the so-called Sons of Iraq tribal fighters, so crucial in stabilizing Iraq, remained worried they are being shoved aside and left vulnerable to their old Al Qaeda adversaries.
The military admitted late Sunday that three bank employees – a 57-year-old man and two women coworkers – killed by U.S. soldiers in the Baghdad airport complex were just as their loved ones and Iraqi police had maintained: "Law abiding citizens of Iraq." But the soldiers who fired at them were, a military statement said, "not at fault."The announcement about the conclusion of an Army investigation corrected what had seemed implausible all along.
Sign of the Times: Waleed al-Bayati has re-opened his pizza restaurant (Credit: Larry Kaplow) Baghdad's probably still too dangerous for western reporters to comfortably linger over meals in restaurants but it's just about right for pizza runs.
What would you tell an Iraqi who asks you if they should uproot their entire family and move to the United States? That's the question facing us in NEWSWEEK's Baghdad bureau as we explain a new U.S. immigration program aimed at giving safe haven to Iraqis who have risked working with Americans.
Iraqis breathed a collective sigh of relief Thursday as they learned their beloved national soccer team would be allowed to keep playing. FIFA, world soccer's governing body, rescinded a decision to suspend the Iraqi squad from qualifying matches for next year's World Cup tournament.