Baghdad Beyond the Headlines

From gleeful schoolkids to a literary scholar who loves Humphrey Bogart, a photographer captures a reawakening but still wary city

The school, in a neighborhood of neat single-family homes, was one of the first to reopen after the U.S.-led invasion. Lois Raimondo
The presence of U.S. troops on Baghdad streets since the city fell in April (in the marketplace adjacent to the Kadhimiya mosque) provoked a mixture of reactions among residents—anger, suspicion, relief, confusion, joy, defiance and studied indifference. Lois Raimondo
Roasted carp and other delicacies sold from sidewalk carts at twilight suggested that street life was beginning to return to normal. Lois Raimondo
At the street-corner Al-Shah Bender café Riadh Kadhum Ziarach, middle, a sheik from the Shiite-dominated Sadr City district, met with Amir Nayef Al-Sayegh, right, asking him to translate into English an appeal to the U.S.-led coalition government. Lois Raimondo
Most of the men attending the wedding banquet at the bridegroom's home—held in his driveway—left shortly after they finished eating. A handful of men in the wedding party danced in the street to musicians playing drums, trumpets and cymbals. Lois Raimondo
A bride-to-be and her entourage in a downtown beauty salon on a Thursday afternoon giddily prepare for her wedding. Lois Raimondo
"Before the war, school started every day with a song, 'We Love Saddam,'" recalled Kamel, the headmistress. "Now we have stopped the morning ritual, to teach the children how to begin to forget." Lois Raimondo
Women entering the Kadhimiya mosque, one of the largest in Baghdad, are discreetly searched following the terrorist bombing earlier that day of a mosque in Najaf, 120 miles to the south of Baghdad. Lois Raimondo
A pair of boots were among the ambiguous effects confronting Dr. Faik Amin Baker, director of a medical examiner's office. Lois Raimondo
Youths entering the Kadhimiya mosque were searched not by coalition authorities or other officials but by community members—a sign, locals said, of self-sufficiency. Lois Raimondo
Vendors hawking books and magazines say they now openly offer once-banned literature, including religious texts and posters and political tracts. Lois Raimondo

Photojournalist Lois Raimondo had little idea what to expect. Her impressions had come mainly from daily news reports of the fighting and casualties and the coalition government's struggles to gain a footing on unstable ground. Journalists in the city warned her to be off the streets by dark.

A few hours after arriving in Baghdad, she found herself at a run-down estate in a Baghdad suburb. The sun had set, marinated carp was roasting on the fire, and whiskey and Iraqi beer were flowing. The ebullient host, Sala, an Iraqi businessman newly returned after 15 years in London, urged everyone to eat and drink. They talked above the crack of distant rifle and machine-gun fire. But when mortars began to boom, guests began to leave. "Please stay," Sala said, laughing and crying at the same time. "It's a party."

His strong mixed emotions made a fitting introduction to Baghdad. Raimondo had gone there to see how people were getting by in their daily lives. Do they have enough to eat? What are they doing for work? What are their dreams for the future?

In a neighborhood of stucco houses, the headmistress of a primary school told Raimondo that she was angry about the destruction of Saddam's regime. She described him as a father figure to her as well as her students. "People love Saddam because they are afraid of him," the journalist's driver, a 42-year-old man named Ali, explained. "This is a very strong kind of love. We are always afraid to say our feelings."

Raimondo visited a married couple in their 40s, both unemployed meteorologists. The mother worried constantly about their two young children because of the bombings and shootings. The father had been a Baathist and a general in Saddam's air force. He'd been hiding in the house since the start of the war. "Everything outside is chaotic," he said. As Raimondo left he said, "This was not so difficult. You are the first American we have ever met."

Raimondo noticed how people were speaking up after decades of suppression. "From now on, there will be a big difference," a furniture maker said. "At the very least I can talk."

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