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How fragile is Baghdad's calm?

An arc of tough districts stands as a test of whether peace can hold.

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Walid Mahmoud reopened his Napoli Pizzeria last week after shuttering it for more than three years. Situated next to the Green Zone, his restaurant was one of several popular eateries lining a central street that had been a constant target for suicide bombers.

Like many Baghdadis, Mr. Mahmoud says he is heartened by a recent decline in violence. In October, attacks across Iraq dropped 55 percent; civilian fatalities in Baghdad alone have dropped 75 percent compared with June, according to the US military.

But two bombings in the capital since Friday, which killed at least 24 and wounded dozens, were a reminder that the new calm is fragile. In many parts of the city, residents are still arrested by fear, polarized by sectarian divisions, or altogether absent.

Even as life reasserts itself in a few upscale areas such as Karrada and Jadriyah, wide swaths of middle-class western Baghdad remain locked down amid uncertainty over whether progress is lasting or is the result of a brief cease-fire between sectarian militias. An arc of neighborhoods there – Furat, Atibaa, Jihad, Amel, Bayiaa, and Saidiyah – will be forever linked to some of the war's worst turmoil. These areas, some of which the Monitor recently visited, will also offer the truest test of the durability of improving security, say American and Iraqi officials.

US Ambassador Ryan Crocker said last month that what ultimately happens in places like Jihad and other traditionally Sunni-Shiite – but currently segregated – neighborhoods is "critical" for the trend to "continue and solidify."

While violence is down, true peace seems conditional on resolution of a number of explosive issues. Tens of thousands of displaced families hope to return to their homes, and families expect to receive compensation for members who were killed and for damage to property. Yet the Iraqi government has made no meaningful initiatives to push the process ahead.

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