Postcard From Basra

As violence subsides across the nation, Iraqis take tentative steps toward normality. An eye-opening tour of Iraq after the surge

Yuri Kozyrev / NOOR for TIME

In Basra, a man helps a woman onto the dock after a recreational boat ride.

Water? Check. Cooler to prevent the water from reaching boiling point? Check. AK-47 assault rifles, handguns, police authorization and walkie-talkies? Check, check, check and check.

It wasn't your typical road trip. We left Baghdad at 5 a.m. Destination: Basra, Iraq's second largest city and only major port, 340 miles (550 km) to the southeast. The nighttime curfew had just ended when we--eight bodyguards, two interpreters, four journalists and four drivers--piled into our cars as the sun was coming up.

The Iraqi capital's streets were empty, allowing our convoy to speed past collapsed buildings, concrete barriers and sleeping soldiers at checkpoints. By...

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