There is a different feel to the atmosphere in Baghdad these days, as if the chokehold that has gripped the Iraqi capital for the better part of the last decade and a half has started to ease.
On the main road cutting through the Karada district, the sidewalks are crowded with vendors hawking designer knock-offs and sticky sweets. Restaurants lining the boulevard grill masgouf, a butterflied carp considered to be Iraq's national dish, over open flames. People sit at outdoor cafés, sipping tea and smoking shisha.
Two and a half years ago, ISIS plowed a truck packed with explosives into a busy shopping area down the road during Ramadan, killing hundreds of people.
Now, young men sporting skinny jeans, funky jackets and what we're told is the new "spikey" hairstyle hang around in groups. It's a look that once would have gotten them killed, back in the years of Iraq's sectarian bloodletting when Baghdad was a patchwork of brutal militias.
A general view shows traffic on Al-Rashid Street in Baghdad's historic center on January 21.
Most of the checkpoints that once clogged traffic for hours in the city have been removed, more roads are open, and the power cuts aren't as bad as they used to be.
At Baghdad's famed book fair, dozens of publishing houses from across the region have gathered to display their works, from poetry to history and terror literature. The event was named this year after the late novelist Alaa Mashzoub; known for speaking out against sectarianism, he was shot dead outside his house in early February.
During his opening remarks at the fair, Iraqi President Barham Salih spoke about the challenge of terrorism, the importance of freedom of speech, and Iraq's historic stature within the Middle East as an intellectual center, though the country is far from that glorious era.
"As we approach politics, its most serious challenge, the terrorist challenge, I want to point out that Iraqi political life is at a stage of transformation in which victory over terrorism and violence must be strengthened by further reforms and actions that would make it a decisive victory," Salih said.
Iraqis visit the International Book Fair in Baghdad on February 7.
For Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on ISIS, therein lies the problem. Despite the rhetoric from some Iraqi leaders, this is a country where political failures and the rise of terrorism and violence are inextricably intertwined.
"Iraq has not learned the lesson from ISIS," Hashimi, who has tracked the terror group from back in its early days as al Qaeda in Iraq, told CNN. "Especially when it comes to co-existing and civil security, accepting others and apologizing to others, the same reasons that made ISIS a state are still there and growing."