But these days, Baghdad feels different.
Since Islamic State fighters overran much of the north and west of the country in the summer, a paradoxical sense of calm has taken hold. The initial panic that followed the militant onslaught has abated, and as residents have come to realize that the capital is not at risk of falling, Baghdad has sprung to life.
Nightclubs have proliferated, liquor stores dot the streets, and families pile into cars every evening to eat at one of the many new restaurants or stroll in the glitzy new mall. A glittering riverboat plies the Tigris River every night, serving dinner on one deck and coffee on another. A pink neon palace called the Barbie Clinic pampers women with beauty treatments late into the evening.
For those who can’t afford such venues, there are impromptu parties along the bridges and banks of the Tigris, where young men gather with cans of beer to talk, socialize and, after the drink has taken effect, dance in the streets.