One way to chart the recent course of Iraq's history is by the vehicles that American soldiers drive. When I first came here in the summer of 2003, I remember riding around in open-top, unarmored Humvees. By 2004, a spate of IEDs had made it necessary to move to up-armored Humvees, followed a few years later by heavier MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles that look as if they wandered off the set of a Star Wars movie. When last here in 2008, I went everywhere in a hulking MRAP.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find myself being driven in late October from Camp Victory, the main U.S. base on the outskirts of Baghdad, into the center of town along Route Irish, once notorious as the world's most dangerous road, in a lightly armored Chevrolet Suburban that could not withstand a roadside bomb. In Nasiriyah, a town in southern Iraq that was a major focus of resistance during the initial U.S. invasion in the spring of 2003, I rode into the town center without body armor in an SUV driven by the local police chief.
Clearly, despite the headlines about bombings in Baghdad, the situation has improved immeasurably, even if the war is not yet over. U.S. soldiers are still engaged in combat in rural areas alongside the Iraqis.