Inside the 34-foot-long car, a young bride and groom rode to their wedding reception awash in limo-chic — crystal champagne flutes, blue lights twinkling in the mirrored ceiling and thumping pop music.
“It’s like being in the movies,” said the mother of the groom, riding in the back, as checkpoint soldiers, pretending to look for bombs or kidnap victims, poked their heads inside for a wide-eyed peek.
The military Humvee became the icon of the U.S. war in Iraq, a nine-year campaign that officially ended when the last U.S. troops left in December. And now, as Iraq struggles to recover, the Humvee’s tarted-up civilian offspring is a gaudy sign that Iraqis suddenly have a little space in their lives for something other than dread.
“Yes, these cars were a symbol of war,” said Abdul Kareem Mohammad, a government worker who paid $400 to rent the limo for his son’s wedding. “But now it’s a symbol of our joy.”
Seven months after the last U.S. troops left their country, Iraqis are surprisingly optimistic about the future, given the horrors of war they have endured for nearly a decade.
Housing developments, shopping centers and hospitals are rising from the rubble, stores that had been closed for years are reopening, and old familiar sights — busy ice cream parlors and Baghdad’s famous red double-decker buses — are returning.
But every step forward is weighed down by continued bloodshed, brutality and corruption.
Violence has dropped sharply from its height in 2006 and 2007, but people are murdered with bombs and guns every day. Coordinated bombings on July 23 killed more than 100 people and wounded dozens more, the bloodiest day in Iraq in two years.
Oil production and revenue are surging back to levels not seen since before former president Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Yet the government barely provides the basics of life: schools, clean water and electricity on summer days that routinely crack 120 degrees.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s democratically elected leader, presides over a government that — according to critics from international human rights groups to Baghdad bus drivers — is ineffective, increasingly authoritarian and repressive toward its political enemies.
In dozens of interviews this summer across Iraq, many people said that their lives were safer and more prosperous under Hussein and that the U.S. invasion was not worth the price both countries have paid. Even those who were grateful that the Americans ousted Hussein were happy the U.S. troops are gone. At least now, they said, Iraqis would rise or fall on their own.
As the boot prints of the last U.S. soldiers in Iraq fade in the hot desert sand, the state of Iraq, summer 2012, emerges in scenes of daily life on streets and in homes, in cities and villages, in offices, markets and farms.