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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Let's go now to Baghdad where for the past few months a hit song has been blaring from car radios.

(Soundbite of song "The Shotgun")

MONTAGNE: What you're listening to is "The Shotgun," and it has a special meaning for NPR's Baghdad correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. She tells us why in this reporter's notebook.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Despite the title, "The Shotgun" by Hosam Al-Rasam isn't about guns and death and, well, the usual things in Iraq. It's first a love song.

(Soundbite of song "The Shotgun")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It opens with these lyrics. The shotgun might miss its target sometimes, but the look in my love's eyes is always lethal. But beyond his love, this is also a song about a road trip, and it captures the moment here in Iraq. One of our local reporters, Kais Al-Jalele, played the tune on one of our recent journeys, and it's become a personal favorite. We turn it on whenever we head out of Baghdad somewhere, at least a few times a week these days. For the first time in a long time in some of the country, the roads here are safe and open. In Hosam Al-Rasam's song, his first stop is the western city of Ramadi. To Ramadi, to Ramadi, take me to Ramadi, he sings. My family is all in Ramadi.

(Soundbite of song "The Shotgun")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I too have driven to Ramadi several times over the past few months. The road through Anbar province used to be one of the deadliest in Iraq. During the worst of the sectarian violence, at illegal checkpoints manned by Sunni militants, drivers would be dragged from their cars and executed at will. Now it takes me about an hour and a half to get to Ramadi, Anbar's capital. The road is filled with army checkpoints, and I've even spent the night with a family in town there without incident.

(Soundbite of song "The Shotgun")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: To Basra, this beautiful victorious Basra, take me to Basra, al-Rasam sings. All the way in Iraq's south, Basra for years was also a deadly destination. The British Army allowed it to fall under the control of various competing militias. Women were routinely killed for not wearing the Islamic headdress. Since an Iraqi army offensive in March, the city has opened up. The trip from Baghdad to Basra takes a slow eight hours because you get stuck behind trucks carrying produce and livestock. There was a time when almost no supplies were reaching Baghdad because the road was so dangerous truckers refused to make the trip. Now in an area where you used to speed by and hope that you wouldn't be accosted by bandits, we ate at a newly built rest stop.

(Soundbite of song "The Shotgun")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, Hilla, Rasam sings. The love of Hilla killed me. Nothing is more beautiful than Hilla. Hilla lies at the lower point of what used to be called the triangle of death. We had a lovely lunch recently there with the family of our driver, who's from Hilla. We used to have a rule whereby we couldn't stay anywhere longer than 15 minutes, the time it would take someone to spot us and organize a kidnapping attempt. In Hilla that afternoon, we enjoyed a lazy meal where they told us all the local gossip in the afternoon heat.

(Soundbite of song "The Shotgun")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's where Hosam Al-Rasam's song ends, but I've kept on traveling, most recently to the province of Diyala along the Iranian border. This isn't to say that we don't take precautions and that Iraq is completely safe. We do, and it's not. All these trips have been meticulously planned, and I'm always dressed as an Iraqi woman in order not to attract attention. We are still targets and something terrible could happen at any time, but one of the most frustrating things for all of us who've lived in Iraq in recent years, reporters and ordinary Iraqi citizens, was that it was simply too dangerous to move around very much. Whole swaths of Iraq have opened up to us again, and I for one can't wait to hit the road. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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