NYT must-read: A calm Iraq, unrecognizable

Literally unrecognizable, says Pulitzer winner Dexter Filkins, back in the country for the first time since 2006 and relentlessly disoriented by the normalcy he finds in areas he remembers firsthand as bombed-out moonscapes. No piece I’ve ever read better communicates the amazement of Iraq’s revival; the effect is the same as these photo comparisons from Hurricane Ike, except in reverse. I want you to read it all so I’ll keep this short, but we (and a lot of other bloggers) were remiss last week thanks to the election in not paying proper attention to the handover of command in Baghdad, when Gates, Adm. Mullen, and Gen. Odierno gave Petraeus his due. As a tribute to his achievement, you can scarcely do better than this:

In Sadr City, the small brick building that served as the Mahdi Army’s headquarters still stands. But not 50 feet away, a freshly built Iraqi Army post towers above it now. Next to the army post, perhaps to heighten the insult to the militia, the Iraqi government has begun installing a new sewer network, something this impoverished and overcrowded ghetto sorely needs. “Wanted” posters adorn the blast walls there, too, imploring the locals to turn in the once-powerful militia leaders.

Inside the Sadr Bureau, as it’s called, the ex-militia gunmen speak in chastened tones about moving on, maybe finding other work, maybe even transforming their once ferocious army into a social welfare organization. I didn’t see any guns.

“Please don’t print my name in your newspaper,” one former Mahdi Army commander asked me with a sheepish look. “I’m wanted by the government.”

Read it all. And try to suppress a smile, or a catch in your throat, at this: “THERE IS NOWHERE FOR YOU TO HIDE.”