BAGHDAD -- If you're in Baghdad and need a new car, Abdul Azeez is the man to see. Or Hakeem Estafa just around the corner. Or any one of several dozen other car dealers in al-Nahada District on the western edge of the city.
On a recent evening tour of Baghdad car dealers and shopping districts, it was easy to see that conditions, despite 12 years of sanctions in the wake of the Gulf War, are improving, even if only slightly.
Streets and storefronts are bathed in light, thanks to electrical plants that now provide 24-hour power. Food, clothing and electronic equipment is everywhere. Kinetic crowds of young men and women crowd the sidewalks. Restaurants and pizza parlors are packed. Theaters show movies from Italy, France and even the United States, although most of them, judging from the billboards outside the theater, appear to be B-grade or worse.
For the more intellectual crowd, there is the Orfali Art Gallery, which has offered exhibits, movies and musical events since 1963. On this night, a CD movie of an opera, "The Tales of Hoffman," was playing on an outdoor movie screen, while, inside, an Iraqi musician was playing her own compositions on the piano.