For decades, Mutanabi Street in Baghdad was the place where bibliophiles went to get their fix on Fridays. Bookstores line this street in an old quarter of the city, and browsers could also pour over tables full of books lined up in front of the sidewalks - religious books, old English paperbacks, dictionaries, atlases, histories of Iraq, and textbooks.
In a part of the world where books are rarely found in homes, there is a saying: books are written in Egypt, printed in Lebanon and read in Iraq. That's why it was so shocking to Iraqis when Mutanabi St. was hit by a suicide bomber a year ago, killing dozens and destroying cafes and bookstores.
So it was moving to revisit Mutanabi St. and see that it has been rebuilt, including the historic Shabander Cafe where writers and poets have been hanging out for fifty years. But there is a sadness here. Although the cafe has been restored, with government funds, and photos from the 1920s and 1930s still hang on the wall, Haji Mohammed, the owner, gazes over at five photos hung on the wall near the entry - the portraits of his four sons and a nephew who were killed by the bomb.