The trouble with normal ...
I'm sitting in the cockpit as the plane circles over Baghdad airport. For the past two and a half years South African pilot Ignatius Kroukam has been executing the corkscrew landing that's a signature of flying into war zones where there's a danger of missiles. He makes the maneuver look effortless.
What's new is that Jordan's national airline is flying three times a week to Basra, in the south and Erbil in northern Iraq.
"It's very convenient for businessmen," Kroukam says.
While he and the co-pilot scan the horizon to see if there's anything amiss I study the rapidly-approaching ground like an old friend I'm happy to see again.
Back to Baghdad
I first started reporting from Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. In 1998 I moved here and covered the country for most of the following seven years.
After two years embedded with the U.S. Army and Marines in the most volatile places in Iraq - Fallujah, Samarra, Najaf and Tel Afar - I needed a break.
I spent the last year in New York looking at U.S. policy in Iraq and talking to Americans about what was happening here. In the U.S. everyone wants to know what to do about the war. The only thing I knew with any certainty is that it's impossible to understand what's going on here unless you're actually here.
A year ago it was a death-defying drive from the airport to the city. Now there are more concrete barriers and fewer attacks and roadside bombs.
On one of my last trips from the airport a year ago, a network colleague and I huddled on the floor of an armored car after gunfire aimed at a police convoy erupted around us. It's one of the few places where security has improved. But a year ago hardly anyone talked about Shiite-Sunni violence. Now people talk about very little else.
Outside our heavily-secured workspace you can hear gunfire and two or three times a day the horrible unmistakable thump of a car bomb exploding somewhere in the city. Even the "Green Zone" where most Americans live has lost the illusion of safety.
It's the size of a small city and access to it was completely shut down over the weekend after the U.S. military said it stopped a series of planned suicide car bombs there. Going into the Green Zone the following day I was surprised there wasn't more panic among its Western residents. "They never told us about it," one told me.
'Return to normalcy'
So when the official press release with the cheery note: "Yet another indication of Iraq's return to normalcy!" popped up in my inbox, I was a little taken aback.
It was about U.S. renovations to Baghdad's International Airport. It talked about the $13 million pumped into the facility. It didn't mention the worrying security breaches at the airport - the discovery of plastic explosives a few months ago - or fears that it had been infiltrated by one of Iraq's many militias.
But it did note the cafe was open and the duty-free shop featured a Harley-Davison motorcycle.
- Life beyond the violence
Suicide attacks and murders due to sectarian conflict continue around Iraq. See how residents live their lives amid the attacks.