As Iraq considers its future after Saddam Hussein, Mutanabi Street is resuming its role as one of the capital's main marketplaces of ideas. If the daily violence in much of Baghdad, Fallujah, Tikrit and other areas illustrates ways in which the U.S. occupation is failing to improve Iraqis' lives, Mutanabi Street's Friday morning book market is an exhibit of the political and intellectual revival under American rule.
In the 1970s, Saddam Hussein crushed intellectual life, forcing Mutanabi Street's alternative ideas and books underground. Secret police informants infested the cafe tables, ready to overhear whispers of dissent. But six months after the U.S. occupation, Mutanabi is again in ferment. In particular, Shia religious texts have blossomed amid a new debate of Shia ideas. Hussein feared and ruthlessly suppressed the Shia, who form a majority - perhaps 60 percent - of Iraqis.
[Sahi Khalaf Nassir] voices the gratitude of nearly all Iraqis for the U.S. soldiers' ouster of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. But he laments that the Americans did not try to prevent the looting that accompanied their arrival. Like many, he suspects this was deliberate, a step to show Iraqis and the world what a bestial state this society had fallen to, and thus to justify whatever actions the Americans might take.