Patrick Cockburn in the Independent:
Life in Iraq is getting better. Take one example: two or three years ago, tattoo artists in Baghdad were working overtime giving distinctive tattoos to men who feared they would be killed in the Sunni-Shia sectarian slaughter.
Aware that the faces of so many who died were being mutilated, potential victims wanted their families to be able to identify their bodies through a special mark known only to close relatives. One man had an olive tree tattooed on to his body because his father had planted one on the day he was born.
This grisly ritual is no longer taking place because Iraq is now a safer place than it was at the height of the sectarian bloodbath in 2005-7, when 3,000 bodies a month were being stacked up in the morgues. Tattooists report that their clients are today seeking to be marked with the image of a falcon, tiger or dragon for solely decorative reasons.
The point is that security in Iraq is improving, but from a very low base. Baghdad is safer than it used to be though this still leaves it as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, certainly worse than Kabul, with perhaps only Mogadishu in Somalia edging it into second place.
Iraq still suffers from horrendous levels of violence and this has never really abated, despite propaganda lauding the achievements of the American military “surge” which supposedly brought peace to much of the country. The media, both foreign and domestic, was suddenly full of feel-good stories such as the beginning of the return of five million refugees to their homes, though in practice few have come back.