Boogie in Baghdad
It still does not sound like a place I would want to take a date, but I am glad Iraq is showing a little freedom to go along with democracy and whiskey.
Baghdad has never seen anything quite like it: in the newly reopened al-Khyam bar on the banks of the Tigris a group of American paratroopers, fully armed and dressed for battle, were linked arm in arm with drunken Iraqi revellers as they danced the night away.
“It is good to get a bit of Iraqi culture,” said a soldier from the 82nd Airborne. Three or four of his brothers-in-arms, still wearing body armour and with M4 machineguns slung from their shoulders, did their best to get into the swing. They laughed and joked. Some danced hand in hand with Iraqi women. Some even danced with the men, as is the custom in the Arab world.
“I really wish I wasn't wearing all this s*** but it's dangerous,” said a soldier from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as he tugged on his body armour and adjusted his helmet.
The atmosphere was relaxed, the music Arabic and tinny. Occasionally a singer emerged to entertain the customers, a mix of drunken men with shiny shirts, pointy shoes and gelled hair; their companions a disparate group of prostitutes in bright, tight T-shirts.
The Iraqis seemed pleased to have the Americans with them. “If I see the Americans here I am happy, it means we have a good relationship,” said Shada, 25, an elfin waitress.
For a few hours the violence of the past six years was eclipsed by beer and music.
The burgeoning nightlife in the Iraqi capital is the most dramatic evidence so far that this city is returning to its old, pre-war ways, after the nightmare of sectarian violence and a bloody insurgency punctuated by suicide bombings and beheadings.