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By Anthony Shadid -- What Baghdad Has Lost

"I have always said an army is an army, regardless. It's just young men with guns," said Damluji, an architect and lawmaker from a prominent family. "You don't expect an army to take care of a city. You don't expect an army to be sensitive to people's needs."

Baghdad was immiserated already before the Americans came. There was the eight-year war with Iran, when prisoners of war were paraded in pickup trucks through the city. Sanctions followed another war, Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, in time wiping out Baghdad's once-vibrant middle class.

"There are whole generations that have grown up who know nothing but the language of war, confrontation and defiance," Damluji said. "You see it in people's eyes."

Baghdadis -- by which she meant the city's tolerance -- have gone. Migrants from the countryside, with the hard rules of hard men, have taken their place. In her day, a tribal sheik would forgo his headdress when he visited the capital.

"He would be too embarrassed," she said. "When they visited, they acted like Baghdadis. Now people living in Baghdad act like tribal elders from the countryside."

Damluji has an answer; a project to restore the swath of urban wilderness around Rusafi's statue. Owners would become shareholders in a company that would renovate and resurrect a portion of the city that stretches nearly two miles along the Tigris, from Bab al-Sharji to Bab al-Moadhem. Traffic would be forbidden. Cinemas and stores would share space with parks. Hers is similar to a vision that helped rebuild Beirut, but unlike in the Lebanese capital, she said, "We are going to try to keep the social fabric and not turn it over to Starbucks."

She unfurled a photo 20 feet long, a satellite image of the city. There were no barriers, no concrete, no t-walls. "All this is going to be restored," she vowed, waving her hand across the photo.

There is a famous song by Kazem al-Saher, Iraq's best-known singer, about the capital. "Has God ever created, in the entire world, anything as beautiful as you?" he asks. His voice then rises, plaintively, as he cries, "Baghdad! Baghdad! Baghdad!"

Was it ever really beautiful? Damluji paused.

"No," she answered. "No, I don't think Baghdad was ever a beautiful city. But it was a lively city. It was civilized."

The photo remained at her feet. She dragged on a Davidoff cigarette as her gray terrier, Apricot, jumped into her chair.

"It will take awhile," she admitted. "It's far more difficult to build than to demolish."

shadida@washpost.com

Anthony Shadid is the Middle East correspondent for The Washington Post. He is the author of "Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War."


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