Baghdad is a city ravaged by a decade of war and insurgent attacks, making the news for spates of violence. But for the city's 7 million inhabitants, it is where they work, go to the theatre, love and marry. FRANCE 24 takes a look at daily life in the capital.
Violence has profoundly changed the face of Baghdad. It was one of the most important capitals of the Middle East, as well as one of the richest in the region. Today, the Iraqi capital appears to be lacerated by concrete walls. Each district is fortified, partitioned by the police and the army. Checkpoints cause huge traffic jams, while heavily armed men make their way through snaking lines of vehicles equipped with explosive detectors.
Iraq has one of the largest security forces in the world; the Interior Ministry employs around 500,000 people. Every street corner offers a familiar sight of Kalashnikov-toting policemen in bulletproof vests monitoring the traffic from their armored Hummers. These weapons and walls lend Baghdad a post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
On the morning of March 19, 2013, residents of this sprawling city situated on the Tigris River were reminded about the necessity of this heavy security presence.
Al Qaeda is marking the tenth anniversary of the 2003 US invasion.
At around 9 am, we’re at Firdos Square, where US soldiers pulled down a massive statue of Saddam Hussein a decade ago. Boom! Suddenly, we hear the first explosion a few hundred metres away from us. A plume of smoke rises above the buildings. Three minutes later, there’s another explosion followed by plumes of smoke from the second bombing site.
We were just ready to go live on-air, but we have to quickly race to the safety of the hotel. All the shops are closed, the streets are empty. The day has proved to be the deadliest since September 2012, with 17 attacks in just two hours, killing 60 people and wounding about 200 others.
Normal life continues, despite the violence
In ten years, Baghdadis have grown accustomed to the attacks. There are two rules: clear the damage immediately to try to erase the memory and resume normal life immediately. In this city, almost everyone has lost someone and there are wounds that have never really healed.
Yet people live their lives normally, despite the power cuts and economic difficulties.
By late afternoon, as the temperature drops, the Abu Nawas Park, located along the Tigris, is crowded. Families stroll through the park, children play around and it seems like every green patch has turned into a makeshift football field. When night falls, we enjoy grilled fish at a restaurant on the banks of the river. At times like this, the violence seems far away.
Baghdad’s theatres are full every night. Tickets cost about four euros and residents of this city famed for its cultural life are great theatre fans. The artistic life here is surprisingly vibrant and Baghdad has been named the cultural capital of the Arab world for 2013.
Two waves of attacks have rocked this city during our visit, but the real surprise has been to see these men and women live a normal life, despite the violence and political crises. It’s a different picture, one we don’t see on the news, but the people of Baghdad have shown us that this city is recovering from its injuries.