U.S. foreign policy changed the moment Islamic terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, and then-President George W. Bush declared a global war on terror. Soon afterwards, U.S. forces attacked terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan, but the Bush administration also considered Saddam Hussein's regime a threat and the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. Eight years later, the capital still bears the scars of war.
The civil war is over in Iraq. On the streets of the capital, Baghdad, Iraqi security forces have monopolized power. The markets are once again full of people, the stores are busy. Inside Baghdad’s stock exchange, the offices are bustling. There are new restaurants, cafes playing music and ice cream shops are crowded.
In areas that were once off limits because of snipers and car bombs, young couples are once again enjoying walks in the city's parks, families are going out with their children. It is a city recuperating from years of sectarian, insurgent and gang violence.
After Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein was brought down, street wars between Iraqi's Sunni and Shi'ite militias, criminal groups and nationalist fighters almost brought this ancient city to its knees. In 2006, civil war was just around the corner.
Electricity, water unreliable
Today, those fears are over. But blast walls, barbed wire, bombed out cars are still part of Baghdad's landscape. Electricity is still sporadic. Water is not reliable. There are police and military checkpoints all over the city, and violence still lingers. IED explosions and assassinations continue in the city every day.
Traffic is a mess. Blast walls and checkpoints have choked the streets with congestion. Neighborhoods are still segregated according to religious divisions.
People here are bitter about the legacy of the U.S. invasion - but no-one misses Saddam except his immediate circles. Their frustration is aimed at their own government, one of the most corrupt in the world, but they are finally free to criticize it.
Despite their impact on the fate of this country, the September 11, 2001 attacks never come up in conversation in Baghdad. Afghanistan does not come up. People here care more about the U.S. talk show host Oprah and Turkish soap operas more than the war on terror.
Baghdad is dusty and messy. But out of the chaos is growing a new city, full of danger - but also full of life.