Not quite. But Newsweek reports that signs of secular life have returned.
The floor-to-ceiling shelves are kept stocked with Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal and a mysterious clear liquid in bottles plastered with the Hertz logo. Until a few months ago, buyers often had the storekeeper disguise their purchases, pouring their whisky into soft-drink bottles before venturing back to the street. Now the trade is brisk and wide open. It’s fueling Khalaf’s dreams of getting back in the business, maybe even opening a casino—one of those dimly lit rooms where Iraqi men sip drinks while playing cards or backgammon.
Iraqis aren’t merely boozing it up. Men are shaving their beards; women are wearing jeans and taking off their headscarves; couples are holding hands in public. Musicians and DJs feel safe to take more gigs at weddings and parties. In the grassy riverside parks alongside Baghdad’s Abi Nawas Street, young couples sit close on the new sod. Amin Hussein, 21, flips and spins, showing off some moves from the Brazilian martial arts he was forbidden from teaching in his neighborhood until a few months ago. (“This is an Islamic country,” militia enforcers warned him.) Hussein, a fan of rapper Snoop Dogg, says he’s hopeful about the future: “Now the liberals are stronger.” Other entertainers have their own devotees—“Shakira good!” declares 19-year-old Mohammed Mizo, who says he gets heckled less for his spiky hair.
So far, most of the inhibition shedding is confined to a few urban areas—Iraq hasn’t suddenly morphed into Dubai. But to Iraqis old enough to remember, the changed atmosphere brings to mind a way of life that seemed gone forever after five years of war.
This “rebound” has proven a fleeting hope before.