In the City of Cement

  1. There is a hint of an older Baghdad in old Baghdad. You might call it more of a taunt. It's there at the statue of the portly poet Marouf al-Rusafi, pockmarked by bullets, who gives his name to an untamed square. Around him revolves a city, storied but shabby, that American soldiers have finally, ostensibly, left.

    The past is here. A turquoise dome, fashioned from brick and adorned in arabesque, peeks from beneath a shroud of dust. A stately colonnade buttresses British-era balconies and balustrades. A forlorn call to prayer drifts from an Ottoman mosque.

    But few can see the dome. A spider web of wires delivering sporadic electricity obscures the view. You can't navigate the colonnade. Blast walls block the way. And rarely does the call to prayer filter out from a deluge of car horns.

    "It's all become trash, broken windows and crumbling buildings," complained Hussein Karim, a porter looking out from his perch atop a flap of cardboard on the statue's granite pedestal. "Baghdad...

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