BAGHDAD — To the first-time visitor, Baghdad might seem like a normal city. Well, almost normal: Pockmarked buildings and pervasive checkpoints serve as a stark reminder of the violence that nearly tore the country in the decade following the U.S.-led invasion, which began on March 20, 2003.
Today, the Baghdad Zoo is a popular destination for families wearing their finest clothes and enjoying spring weather before the temperature climbs. Nearly 10 years ago, the zoo's staff fled just before Baghdad fell to U.S. troops. All but 35 of the animals died. Later, an American platoon set up a small base at the zoo, where they protected the facility from looting while it was rebuilt.
Abu Nawas Park, where orphans sniffed glue and slept beneath American tanks, now too is a haven for families and a place for die-hard soccer players to practice in the afternoons.
The National Museum of Iraq lost countless treasures during a chaotic period before Americans moved in to secure it. Today, the grounds are under renovation. Fewer than half of the antiquities have been recovered.
The Karrada district is a bustling commercial hub of shops and restaurants that stay open late into the night. During the bloodiest stretch of the war, these shops were shuttered by sundown.
The Iraqi capital and the people who live here still bear scars, some invisible.
On March 14, 2013, a series of coordinated bombings struck the Justice Ministry and killed dozens. Hours after that attack, a man sat in Firdos Square and watched his three children play, running circles around the pedestal that held Saddam Hussein's statue before U.S. Marines pulled it down. None of the children had even been born when the war began. But when an explosion shook the square from yards away, they didn't even flinch.