There is a growing mood of self-confidence in Baghdad which I have not seen here since I first visited Iraq in 1977. The country seemed then to be heading for a peaceful and prosperous future thanks to rising oil revenues. It only became clear several years later that Saddam Hussein was a monster of cruelty with a disastrous tendency to start unwinnable wars. At the time, I was able to drive safely all around Iraq, visiting cities from Mosul to Basra which became lethally dangerous over the next 40 years.
The streets of the capital are packed with people shopping and eating in restaurants far into the night. Looking out my hotel window, I can see people for the first time in many years building things which are not military fortifications. There are no sinister smudges of black smoke on the horizon marking where bombs have gone off. Most importantly, there is a popular feeling that the twin victories of the Iraqi security forces in recapturing Mosul in July and Kirkuk on 16 October have permanently shifted the balance of power back towards stability. The Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, once criticised as weak and vacillating, is today almost universally praised for being calm, determined and successful in battling Isis and confronting the Kurds.
“I detect a certain jauntiness in Baghdad that I have not seen before,” says the Iraqi historian and former minister Ali Allawi. “Al-Abadi has hardly put a foot wrong since the start of the crisis over Kirkuk.” A recently retired senior Iraqi security official adds that “it was bit of luck for all Iraqis, that [Kurdish President Masoud] Barzani brought on a confrontation when he did”. People in the capital are beginning to sound more like victors rather than victims.