-- Easter Sunday in the Iraqi capital brings a cascade of images that show how this battered nation is coming back from the dead.
At the Protestant church near Al Nidal Street, the congregation loudly sings traditional Easter hymns in Arabic at its 10 a.m. service. Pastor Ikram Ibrahim Mehhani recounts the Resurrection story in a way that seems to speak of the Iraqi cataclysm: "They couldn't move the stone from the tomb because it was too heavy. But then an earthquake happened, and it moved the big stone." The children's choir comes to the front of the nave. Each child is wearing a blood-red scarf and a garland of flowers. In their hands are daffodils and lilies, which they wave rhythmically as they sing.
These well-scrubbed Baghdad children have the same simple expressions of happiness I saw on the faces of the poor Shiite Muslim boys and girls who lined the road in southern Iraq, waving at anything that looked American, when I drove from Kuwait to Baghdad.
It would be too much to call this a joyous Easter at this little church. Too many Iraqis have died. Their nation has been pounded by war, they have spent the past week cowering in fear of looters, and they don't know what's ahead. "Today it is Easter, and of course we are happy, but we have a deep sadness," says Samir Ahad, the church secretary.
Down Al Nidal Street, people are celebrating a different sort of resurrection. The Communist Party of Iraq, which was savagely repressed by Saddam Hussein, has just reopened its offices. Members are handing out posters and distributing copies of its long-banned newspaper. There's a Rip Van Winkle quality to these exuberant Communists -- as if they were asleep or in prison while the Soviet empire crumbled. "Our central slogan is 'For a Free Country and Happy People,' " proclaims party spokesman Shaker Dujaily.
Further along Al Nidal Street is more evidence of the reborn Iraq. A new party calling itself the Iraqi Democracy Collective has just set up its headquarters in a building known as White Palace. The building was once the headquarters of Abdul Karim Qasim, the last Iraqi prime minister before the Baath Party seized power in 1963. The party represents various tribal leaders, according to its chief, Sheik Rahim Abuzerij, who is himself the leader of a tribe with about 100,000 members.
It's like this all over town, as if an invisible hand (and pocketbook) were trying to create political pluralism at a stroke. A new Islamic Party opened its headquarters Saturday in the posh Al Mansur district, where many of the regime's officials once lived. Party member Saleh Hadi Houmi says his group makes no distinction between Sunni and Shiite. Islamic politics won't all be so tolerant in the new Iraq. Across Baghdad this weekend, thousands of young Shiite pilgrims were chanting and waving black-and-green banners. They were marching to Karbala, where this week they will join up to 5 million others to commemorate the martyrdom of the prophet Muhammad's follower Hussein. Their clamorous presence is a kind of resurrection, too, for such marches were banned under Saddam Hussein.
I ask the second-ranking official in the new Baghdad, former Iraqi army general Jawdat Ubaidi, if the raucous Shiite pilgrims pose a threat to security. He dismisses the question. "There is religious freedom here now," he says. Sunday afternoon, the new de facto mayor of Baghdad, Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi, meets in a Baghdad hotel with the leaders of the Al Jabouri tribe, one of Iraq's largest. The sheiks politely question him about getting more police and medical care, and suddenly it's a free-for-all. An engineer asks how to get Iraqi radio back on the air, a woman demands the return of American troops to her neighborhood to catch Fedayeen fighters hiding out there, someone else demands more cooking gas so people can make dinner. It's like watching the unruly birth of a nation, as Zubaidi answers the questions. Yes, he'll get the Americans back to the lady's neighborhood. Yes, cooking oil is on the way. Yes, all the big and little problems will be solved, if people will be patient.
"This is our country, a country of good people," Zubaidi tells the crowd on this hot April afternoon. "We can manage our own country. We just told the Americans: 'We thank you for liberating Iraq, Now, we want you to let us run things ourselves.' "
After the meeting breaks up, the leader of the Jabouri tribe, resplendent in his traditional gold-threaded gown, says he will tell his followers to work with the new government. Oh yes, and he's also planning to run for parliament as soon as elections are held.