When Zeinab Mohamed was a teenager, she was barred from going out after dark, even in her own neighborhood. Plagued with bombings, shootings, and kidnappings, Baghdad was just too dangerous. She rushed back home after school every day, and stayed inside until the next morning. On graduation day at university a decade ago, the thought of a party or a late night out with her friends was out of the question. She celebrated quietly at home.

But on a cool Wednesday night in March, the 30-year-old travel agency employee was lounging at Piano, an upscale west Baghdad restaurant, with about a dozen relatives, enjoying dinner and cake for an uncle’s birthday. It was 10 p.m. Even her 7-year-old nephew had joined the festivities…

Welcome to Partytown, Baghdad, a city of nearly 8 million that has seen a dramatic mood shift since the deadly years that followed the US invasion of 2003 and the subsequent 15 years of war, most recently including a bloody fight against ISIS.

It’s not just that restaurants and cafes are full until the early morning hours. It’s also that the streets of commercial districts are filled with cars, music blaring, kids out having fun. “Now there’s more and more activity at night,” said Muntassir Mashadani, the 29-year-old night manager at al-Faqma, a famous Iraqi ice cream chain. Since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS in December, Mashadani estimated that business at night is up 25%. “There’s been a very big change since.”

That’s not to say there are no dangers. Mashadani narrowly avoided a bomb that struck another branch of al-Faqma last year, killing 17 people. But though bombs continue to go off in the capital, including a suspected ISIS attack in January that killed 35, their frequency has decreased significantly, say security experts. Anyone visiting Baghdad who was here in 2006, at the height of the country’s sectarian civil war, or 2014, when ISIS had approached within mortar range of the city’s outskirts, would be stunned by the change in spirit, as well as the nighttime.

Most people don’t care about politics and geo-politics; they just want to have normal life and decent future, though the precise content of these concepts can vary from country to country and culture to culture. Give the people opportunities.

The commenters under the Buzzfeed story keep asking if the “party town” was worth the heavy price paid in American and Iraqi lives and treasure. It’s a wrong question to ask. Was the price high? Yes. Is Iraq today much better than it was when Saddam was around? Yes.