Sense of Security Grows in Baghdad

It's too early to say whether last weekend's vote has dealt a blow to the insurgency. But in Baghdad (search), where nearly a quarter of the Iraqi population lives, the absence of any catastrophic attacks in recent days has given people a cautious sense of security.

All that could change with a single deadly car bomb in the heart of the city or sustained mortar fire on the Green Zone (search). Already a brief lull that followed Sunday's election was shattered by insurgent attacks that killed nearly 30 people around the country.

But most of those attacks were far from the capital, and after years of war, sanctions, military occupation and insurgency, Iraqis have grown used to a level of violence that many people would find intolerable.

For the time being, Baghdad is quieter than it has been, and the people of this once vibrant capital have been trying to enjoy it.

The capital's streets were clogged with traffic for most of the day Thursday. Noisy wedding processions of cars festooned with plastic flowers held back traffic in many parts of the city.

Outdoor markets in some neighborhoods were bustling, children played in parks and crowds of well wishers gathered outside tour operators' offices waiting for relatives and friends returning from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (search) in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

"People feel safer after the elections," barber Jassim Rashq said. "There are more people out on the streets today." Rashq's brother, a Shiite cleric who led a humanitarian agency, was gunned down last year with his son and bodyguard.

Baghdad, home to six million Iraqis of mixed ethnic and religious backgrounds, was on edge in the days before Sunday's election for a 275-seat National Assembly. A surge of violence and a massive security presence kept many residents at home.

An 11-hour night curfew — since eased — added to the feel of a city under siege.

Although Baghdad has been spared major attacks, the lull that followed election day was shattered elsewhere starting Wednesday night. About 30 people, including two U.S. Marines and 12 new Iraqi army recruits, have since died in insurgent attacks.

Still, Baghdad was not entirely quiet. A suicide car bomber struck a foreign convoy escorted by military Humvees on Baghdad's dangerous airport road, destroying several vehicles, according to an Iraqi police report. There were no official casualty reports.

Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib warned Thursday that the insurgency was likely to remain a major threat in the short term. Speaking in a satellite video news conference from Baghdad with reporters in Washington, he said: "They think once we finished the election our security forces will relax and things will be much easier for them to (conduct attacks)."

There were signs Thursday that some of the massive security measures in place for the election have been relaxed or abandoned altogether. Fewer roads were blocked and bridges over the Tigris river that had been closed were reopened.

Only a fraction of the thousands of Iraqi and U.S. soldiers providing security on election day remained on the streets. In some areas, like the commercial Karrada area and the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah, shoppers competed for sidewalk space with piles of domestic appliances.

"We have gone through an important phase. We triumphed over terror and broke the barrier of fear inside us," said Christian Baghdad resident Shaki Shaker. "There is this strange kind of joy in the hearts of many of us. It's like we are leading normal lives again."