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Dressing up and heading out: Baghdadis make the most of resurgent social life

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

Iraqi models share their pictures backstage during a hairdressers' and make-up artists' festival in Baghdad on Feb. 9, 2013. It was the first time that this kind of festival had taken place in the Iraqi capital since 1999.

Agence France-Presse photographer Patrick Baz has been reporting on Iraq since 1998, covering the international sanctions, the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the years of violence that followed.

In these excerpts from AFP’s Correspondent blog, he describes how he tried to document everyday life on his return to Baghdad this month: "How people go about their work, seek entertainment, and try to lead a normal life despite all the risks, attacks and violence that still haunt this city."

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

A model taking part in the hairdressers' and make-up artists' festival.

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

An Iraqi bride sits in her wedding car on Feb. 7, 2013.

By Patrick Baz, Agence France-Presse

I hadn't returned to Baghdad since 2009. Even before touchdown, it was obvious that things had changed. For nearly a decade, planes had to approach the airport in a tight spiral to avoid leaving the secure air space and becoming vulnerable to missile attack. That meant that passengers were forced to lean to one side. But this time – a first for me – I flew in from Beirut on a regularly scheduled flight and we made a normal approach, just like in any country in peacetime.

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

A waiter carries plates of Masgouf, a fish found in the Tigris river, as he serves clients in a restaurant on Baghdad's Abu Nuwas street late on Feb. 2, 2013.

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

Iraqi customers in a bar located on the rooftop of Baghdad's Hotel Palestine late on Feb. 9, 2013.

On all of my previous trips I rarely saw an Iraqi laugh. Which is why I was so surprised this time. Baghdad in 2013 is a different place. Yes, you can still feel an underlying violence. But suddenly the city is laughing, smiling. Baghdad goes out, eats out. Baghdad parties.

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

Iraqi hairdressers, one of them blindfolded, take part in a competition during a festival on Feb. 9, 2013.

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

A young man shows off on his motorbike during the Friday motor show in Baghdad's al-Jadriya district on Feb. 8, 2013.

But change is everywhere, even if the streets are full of U.S.-inspired fashion and fast-food joints. One of the first things one notices is the money. There’s a lot of it sloshing around, most visibly in the form of expensive accessories and a serious number of luxury cars. I never thought I’d see Porsches cruising the streets of Baghdad.

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

An Iraqi cleans his 1958 Chrysler during the Friday motor show in al-Jadriya.

But what has changed most is something less tangible, a feeling that pervades the city. 

In 2009 it was a huge risk just being here, and reporters couldn't go out into the street without armed bodyguards. Now, people are much more relaxed. I went wherever I liked, even in the middle of the night, including bars, restaurants and cabarets. Because of an ongoing curfew between one and five o’clock in the morning, one service goes from 9 p.m. until midnight so people can get home. Then the nighthawks come, and stay until the curfew is lifted at 5 a.m.

Read more on AFP's Correspondent blog.

Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

A woman uses her cellphone to take a picture of her friend at an amusement park in Baghdad's Abu Nuwas street on Feb. 4, 2013.

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