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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So that's one account of how the war began. Let's talk about Iraq now.

NPR's Kelly McEvers was with the last American soldiers as they left Iraq in December 2011. She has recently visited the country again. She's on the line from Beirut.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Hi, Kelly.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: So how would you describe Iraq today?

MCEVERS: You know, I think the single word that would describe at least Baghdad these days, is traffic. You can spend hours and hours just to get from one neighborhood to another. And I guess that's both good and bad, right? It's good because it means people are out. You know, 10 years later, people are going to work. They're starting to lead normal lives. They feel safe enough to be in the streets and their cars. On the weekends the parks are full of families going to picnics again. There's even a mall in Baghdad now.

But it's also, I guess, it's a bad thing, because the traffic in some part is a result of checkpoints. Everywhere you look, inside Baghdad and between Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, there are checkpoints. Iraqi soldiers have set up these, you know, some of them are pretty makeshift affairs but, you know - and to look at them, I mean they're wearing camouflage, they've got their night vision goggles, their American rifles - some of them are even using old American Humvees. So, you know, they're checking cars to try to stop some of the violence that does still continue in Iraq today. So on some days where you can kind of squint your eyes closed and pretend that the war never happened because things are kind of normal, then you hit one of these checkpoints, you're constantly reminded of it.

INSKEEP: You did mention that violence continues. What kind of violence is it?

MCEVERS: Well, you know, we have to say that and for the most part it is way down, if you just look at the sheer numbers. I mean now there are many Latin American countries that have higher murder rates than Iraq. But, yes, we still see these brazen attacks, car bombs and homemade bombs targeting police, soldiers, government workers and a lot of time civilians - oftentimes Shiite pilgrims on their way to religious ceremonies. Just this morning, we saw several attacks across Baghdad in Shiite neighborhoods.

It's usually one of two things, they're either targeted hits, like revenge killings maybe, left over from the sectarian conflict, political disputes, or the sort of al-Qaida branch of Iraq, known as the Islamic State of Iraq. This is not the Osama bin Laden organization. This is one of these more local franchises, like you see in Yemen and North Africa, now even Syria. You know, this is an organization that still hell-bent on establishing an Islamic state in Iraq and using violence to do it.

INSKEEP: Well, Kelly, let me ask about one other thing. As the United States moved into Iraq, of course, the U.S. said it was seeking to eliminate the danger of weapons of mass destruction - as we heard from Hans Blix, there weren't any. But American officials also talked about establishing a democracy that would be a beacon for that region. Did it happen?

MCEVERS: You know, Iraq has elections. Iraqis can criticize their politicians. One of my favorite places to go is the Iraqi parliament. On any given day you can see robust debates going on, among members of parliament from all walks of life, every corner of Iraq. Is Iraq a model in the region? Some say yes, because it has an inclusive government of all the three main factions. You've got Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites sitting together; but lately that alliance is in a lot of trouble. You've got massive protests in the Sunni heartland of Western Iraq. You've got widespread accusations that the Shiite prime minister is becoming a new kind of dictator, a new Saddam. So I think the major question, as the rest of the region does kind of split along the sectarian lines, is will Iraq be able to hold? And is Iraq really the kind of democracy, the kind of government that the U.S. wanted? I mean it's one now that is much more closely aligned with Iran than anyone else.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers, reflecting on her time covering the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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