|On New Year's Eve Ridaa al-Azzawi squeezed into his pointy snakeskin boots, his tight black sweater and his snazzy corduroy flared jeans, hustled down to a Baghdad hotel ballroom and partied for peace.|
2008 arrived in a less-violent Baghdad, and residents said it was the first real party they had seen in years.
At the stroke of midnight, exuberant locals fired into the air with automatic rifles, sending red tracer fire streaking over the city, as fireworks lit up the sky.
"The security has changed and it took us by surprise. We're very happy. Especially us young people," said al-Azzawi, a 22-year-old student taking a break from dancing to a traditional Iraqi band in the ballroom of the Palestine Hotel.
"I haven't seen a happy place like this in so long. I wanted to see if I could maybe meet a few girls!" he said. "I only hope the Iraqi people can enjoy more happy times like this."
Salah al-Lami, 27, the singer who performed at the Palestine ballroom and then for another New Year's Eve crowd at the Sheraton Hotel across the street, said it was the first time he had sung before a live audience in four years.
"This will be the year that we take our freedom!" he told Reuters after singing through a boisterous set in front of a packed dancefloor.
"When I went up on the stage and started singing I felt like I was performing for my family."
Belly dancers also took the stage, and revelers showered a female singer with dinar notes, the Iraqi audience's ultimate sign of approval.
My warmest wishes to everyone throughout the world for peace, security, freedom and happiness in 2008. May it be our best year ever!