Kevin Sites: arriving in Baghdad

NBC News combat correspondent and blogger Kevin Sites has posted a second entry from Iraq on the newly re-opened

I am pleasantly surprised. Baghdad is neither new nor vastly improved, but it is much better than I remember it. An easy point to score considering last time I was here bombed out vehicles and burning tank wreckage lined the streets. But that was only five months ago. Now the place has a colonial feel. With two gulf wars past, we have grown accustomed to the sight of U.S. soldiers and Marines in the desert. It is different to see them patrol the streets of Baghdad in Humvees or baked by the Middle Eastern sun in their body armor and Kevlar. They are locked and loaded, sucking on Camelbacks as they move in five-man squads through the marketplace. At the Republican Palace, blond-haired, rosy-cheeked twenty somethings on loan from the State Department or Pentagon—staff the makeshift Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) offices that simultaneously administer Iraq's overwhelming current civil needs while hammering out the blueprint for a post Saddam future. Many of the Iraqis I've talked to say they're discouraged so far. With 60-percent unemployment and rampant crime (25 reported carjackings a day in Baghdad) it is a difficult time. But there has also been undeniable progress like news schools and sewage treatment facilities. Highly educated and immensely proud (one of our drivers teaches economics and Baghdad University) most Iraqis I talk with say they want a faster transition to self-rule. They make no bones about it, they are happy that Saddam and the Bathists have been ousted, but they are not comfortable being occupied by foreign troops.