The Karradah district of Baghdad is where locals come to buy appliances like heaters, refrigerators, furniture, and small generators (electricity is still off for much of the day in Baghdad.) The main shopping street never closed down, but I haven't seen it booming like this since right after the fall of Saddam. When I asked one merchant why sales were so good, he explained: Iraqis are returning to homes they fled during the sectarian killing, and their homes have been looted, so they have to replace what was stolen. And the government is giving a stipend to returnees. What's that they say about every tragedy having a silver lining....

Abu Nawas Street which runs along the Tigris River used to be famous for its fish restaurants which were long closed but now have been refurbished. But the green strip along the river was once an hangout for unsavory types. Now it has been totally redone as a park with shrub-lined walkways, benches, tables and several mini-playgrounds with swings and slides. On Christmas Day, which was a national holiday here, the park was full of families sitting on blankets, walking by the river, and pushing kids on swings. It was such a normal scene that it nearly made me cry, and it definitely made me fearful that a crazed suicide bomber might take advantage of the crowd. I also wondered whether the government will maintain the greenery, and collect garbage (no waste barrels were in evidence). But as a step forward towards a semi-normal city this park is a great start!