Red and green lights point to the Baghdad sky as a great noise comes from the Tigris. If this image had happened years ago, he would not have made much effort to imagine, perhaps, that it was an Iraqi forces patrol with its sirens activated. Probably on the way to a raid. And if we go back even further, before 2011, the relationship would have been made directly with the US forces that toured Baghdad with their armored cars and always surrounded by pompous displays of force. It would have been impossible to distinguish the lights from the scene of violence and insecurity that the country has experienced since the US invasion in 2003.
The scene that was witnessed this Friday could not be further from that reality. The lights in the Baghdad night came from floodlights illuminating a small stage next to the devastated and drier Tigris, where Iraqi musicians performed before crowds of children and young people. They jumped up and down and yelled the lyrics that were heard through the loudspeakers.
“My childhood had nothing to do with what we see now. Nothing! We couldn't play in the street. We only went to school for a couple of hours and then we came home," says Max, 20, who attends the concert accompanied by his friend Mohammad, 21. Both study engineering and were part of so many Iraqi children who, although they did not live the The times of the former dictator Saddam Hussein did grow during the US invasion and the continuous wars that the country waged in the following years.
Until a few years ago, the only image that young people like Max had of Baghdad was that of a prison city with multiple checkpoints that made mobility a nightmare and where the concrete blocks not only protected the entrance to all areas and administrative buildings , but they divided the different sectors of the city according to their confession: Shia or Sunni.
But Baghdad was far from a segmented city before the arrival of the Americans. The violence that arose against their presence (from liberators –at least for a sector of society– they quickly became occupiers), but above all the sectarian war that followed, between 2006 and 2008, displaced hundreds of thousands of families internally in search of the protection of their loved ones.
The demographic distribution of the city changed and the population was locked up in ghettos.
Teibe is 21 years old and, despite the fact that she was very young, she remembers the day that a group of hooded men came asking for her father in the Al Husseinie neighborhood, with a Shiite majority, where her family had a house. Her sin was being Sunni. They took him away in handcuffs and only heard from him weeks later. He had been killed and buried as N.N. in the city of Kerbala, 123 kilometers south of Baghdad.
Her mother, then 26 years old, had to escape with her and her two younger brothers to seek refuge in a Sunni area, where they have lived ever since. “The situation is very different today, especially many young people do not talk about it. Now we can move around the city, there is no threat of car bombs, but the fear has not totally disappeared”, admits Teibe, pointing to one of the great challenges of current Iraq.
The Hash al Shabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP) are the majority Shiite militias that were a pillar in the war against the Islamic State between 2014 and 2017, but which in many cases became armed – and economic – arms. – from political sectors, many of them supported by neighboring Iran.
The photo of the PMF martyrs, of their former leader Abu Mahdi al Muhandis and former Iranian general Qassem Suleimani – assassinated by a US drone in 2021 – are frequent in some sectors of the city. “My mother dreams that my two brothers can leave the country because she fears they will suffer the same fate as my father,” says Amar, who will soon graduate as a lawyer. It is a cry shared by many. “There is no future here,” says 17-year-old Khalid.
Safa, 30, has arrived at the concert with her sister two years younger. Neither of them wants to get married, they say they don't want to depend on men to be successful in their lives. Both try to run their own businesses, but recognize that while the security situation has never been so good before – at least as far as they can remember – the economic situation is the worst. “Our rulers do nothing. They only steal money."
Safa's sister, Inas, says the improved security has opened the eyes of many in Baghdad. Especially young people, who reiterate time and time again that the big problem in the country is corruption. “It's simple, before they told us that there was no money to solve problems because the money went to combat insecurity. Now what's the excuse?” she wondered. Both say that before they hated Americans, today they hate their politicians more. That same Friday morning, Mutannabbi street was more crowded than usual. "More and more women are coming," confirms Baraa, a young editor who has run a bookstore since 2016.
"There are people, but sales are bad," he says while regretting that the 2019 protests had no impact. "We lost that opportunity," she says. A few meters away, Gina drinks a coffee. She is Kurdish, she was born in Baghdad but her family fled to Kurdistan. “Everything they say about the city being dangerous is no longer true. Look how many people, I'm happy to be back, ”she concludes.