By John Simpson

Twelve years have passed since the terrible decision to invade Iraq in 2003. When I add up all my visits to Baghdad during that time, I find I have spent two full years of my life here. Thatís a long time to observe so much bloodshed and misery. But now, for the first time, I am starting to wonder whether things are changing.

The other night I wandered around the main shopping street in Karada, the Kensington of Baghdad. The lights blazed out from every shop along the way and half the pavement space was taken up with goods for sale: shoes, handbags, sweets, jackets, scarves.

A river of people wandered in both directions along the street, past the cafes and restaurants where diners leaned back in their plastic chairs and gave themselvesover to the pleasures of eating, drinking tea, and talking.

The laughter drowned out the blaring horns from the slow-moving, nose-to-tail cars, and children played and danced and tried to drag their parents over to look at the toys on show. There was a certain amount of beer-drinking going on.

It was a Thursday night, and everyone was determined to have a good time. They had something to celebrate, you see: This was the first weekend since the nightly curfew had been abolished.