There’s nothing here you don’t already know, but knowing it and seeing it are two different things. Consider this a belated video companion piece to Dexter Filkins’s return to Iraq last fall for the NYT. Six months later, no story I’ve read better captures the amazement at how much progress has been made:
Abu Nawas Park — I didn’t recognize that, either. By the time I had left the country in August 2006, the two-mile stretch of riverside park was a grim, spooky, deserted place, a symbol for the dying city that Baghdad had become.
These days, the same park is filled with people: families with children, women in jeans, women walking alone. Even the nighttime, when Iraqis used to cower inside their homes, no longer scares them. I can hear their laughter wafting from the park. At sundown the other day, I had to weave my way through perhaps 2,000 people. It was an astonishing, beautiful scene — impossible, incomprehensible, only months ago…
Standing in the middle of the downtown, I found myself disoriented. I had been here before — I was certain — but still I couldn’t recognize the place. Two summers ago, when I’d last been in Ramadi, the downtown lay in ruins. Only one building stood then, the Anbar provincial government center, and the Americans were holding onto it at all cost. For hundreds of yards in every direction, everything was destroyed; streets, buildings, cars, even the rubble had been ground to dust. Ramadi looked like Dresden, or Grozny, or some other obliterated city. Insurgents attacked every day.
And then, suddenly, I realized it: I was standing in front of the government center itself. It was sporting a fresh concrete facade, which had been painted off-white with brownish trim. Over the entrance hung a giant official seal of Anbar Province. The road where I stood had been recently paved; it was black and smooth. The rubble had been cleared away. American marines were walking about, without helmets or flak jackets or even guns.
You’ll find the same spirit in this ABC segment. There’s still trouble afoot — read Roggio’s latest for new info about Iran’s infiltration of the country — but for the moment it’s a detail. With the situation this quiet, the hardcore anti-war contingent in Congress needs something else to busy itself with. I think they’ve found it.