When Zeinab Mohamed was a teenager, she was barred from going out after dark, even in her own neighborhood. Plagued with bombings, shootings, and kidnappings, Baghdad was just too dangerous. She rushed back home after school every day, and stayed inside until the next morning. On graduation day at university a decade ago, the thought of a party or a late night out with her friends was out of the question. She celebrated quietly at home.
But on a cool Wednesday night in March, the 30-year-old travel agency employee was lounging at Piano, an upscale west Baghdad restaurant, with about a dozen relatives, enjoying dinner and cake for an uncle’s birthday. It was 10 p.m. Even her 7-year-old nephew had joined the festivities.
Welcome to Partytown, Baghdad, a city of nearly 8 million that has seen a dramatic mood shift since the deadly years that followed the US invasion of 2003 and the subsequent 15 years of war, most recently including a bloody fight against ISIS.