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Is Iraq Nearing its Recovery Tipping Point?

During my research trip earlier this summer to Iraq, I had reported on some glimmers of progress, especially in southern Iraq. Citi Bank is opening an office in Baghdad, and Boeing delivered to Iraqi Airlines the first of several 737s last week. Baghdad has long lagged behind the rest of Iraq, however, as first Iraqi Kurdistan and then southern Iraq began to take off. No longer. Finally, the face of Baghdad is starting to change for the better:

Retail heaven has come to Baghdad. The capital’s commercial district has been transformed with the arrival of Mansour Mall. On Sunday, hundreds of people were walking in droves leading up to the giant structure, in their best dress, with women glammed up in make-up and high heels and ready for a night on the town. It was like a carnival, or a parade. “All of Baghdad is here,” my dad said, chuckling, as we strolled through the place. “In the past, they would drive all the way north to Erbil to go to Majdi Mall…”

There’s electricity and air conditioning, a luxury in central Iraq amid the searing 45°C temperatures. Finally, there is a place where people can hang out indoors and keep away from the summer heat. And for the first time in at least two decades, recognized brands are being stocked in the stores. There’s Koton, LC Waikiki, Ecco, Clarks and Geox, but those stores are alongside a fake “Aldoo”. That goes the same for food: there’s a “Krunchy Fried Chicken K.F.C”. Talk about contrasts: the sham poultry purveyors caught my attention as we walked by a shop that had Rolex and Raymond Weil watches on display….

Certainly terrorism remains a problem. The worst thing the United States can do is urge a compromise that will effectively reward extremists for conducting terrorism. And with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani permanently incapacitated mentally and physically from a stroke he suffered in December 2012, many unresolved political and communal issues will remain unresolved until elections next year. Still, in any war-weary country, there is a tipping point to confidence in recovery. And it seems despite the pessimism in the West, resilient Iraqis are pushing their country toward that positive tipping point.