Tuesday, October 07, 2003

The US invasion briefly shut down Baghdad's cafe culture. It has suffered since because of the plague of nighttime carjackings and theft that swept the capital after the collapse of the regime.

But in one sign last week that security is improving, the US-led coalition authority moved the start of curfew from 11 to midnight. Thousands took advantage of the extended evening last Thursday, the end of the Iraqi workweek.

Though far from the prewar war throngs, business is picking up at Baghdad's cafes, where men have gathered around tiny glasses of cardamom-flavored coffee to trade gossip and political rumors for centuries. Many Baghdadi's say they're free to speak their minds in the cafes these days, without fear of being denounced by the informers that were everywhere under Saddam.

"Praises be to God, it's finally safe to come out again,'' says Haider Saffa, a beetle-browed tool salesman who left his house at night for the first time since a few days after the invasion, when a young tough with a rifle pushed him from his car. Tonight, he is kicking back with a few pals and a strong cup of cardamom- flavored coffee.

Spreading his girth on his low-couch, Saffa says he loves everything about the cafe: the burgundy Persian carpets, the red-velvet wallhangings, the fruit-flavored smell. A Saddam loyalist, he hates the American presence in the city, but concedes that conditions have improved in recent months.

"They've got more Iraqis out on the streets as police now, and that's making a difference,'' he says. "We've got to return to a normal life."

No comments: