VISITING BAGHDAD….Nancy Youssef was McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau chief during the height of the violence in 2005 and 2006, back “when we didn’t bat an eye at 70 bodies in the street, when a good week meant that none of our friends or sources had been killed.” Now, after a stint in DC as Pentagon correspondent, she’s back in Baghdad. Over at Nukes & Spooks, she describes what the city looks like today:

We went to neighborhoods I never thought I would see again, let alone at night. Street lights illuminated the shopping districts and bustling customers. People were hanging out of their cars to celebrate weddings. Couples were enjoying dinner, sitting next to windows, without the fear of a car bomb. It was so ordinary and yet almost magical.

Now, I don’t want to overstate where things are. Most of the city is silent and dark again by 9 p.m. and throughout there were blast walls and barriers to keep people from parking. And no one is sure how long this will last. But for the first time in years, Baghdad felt almost like a normal city to me.

Regardless of what you think is responsible for this turnaround, this is what Barack Obama will see when he visits Iraq later in his world tour. As a result, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to take the next step: drawing down the American troop presence in order to placate public opinion and allow political reconciliation to move forward too. “U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months,” he told Spiegel. “That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.” It sounds like Obama’s visit with Maliki (if he has one) should be a fruitful one.