Baghdad For years, when she approached Iraqi Army checkpoints and produced an identification card for soldiers to study for clues about her sect, Nadia Hashim used a simple formula to signal the mostly Shiite Muslim force that she, too, is a Shiite.
"I am one of you," she'd say.
The soldiers would harass Sunnis, but they'd simply wave Hashim through.
Now her pat line gets her an official reproach. When a relative used it recently, a soldier admonished the driver and the passengers. "'We are Iraqis, and you shouldn't say such a thing,'" recalled Hashim.
The 35-year-old mother of three said that for her and countless other Iraqis, the fact that soldiers are now using nationalist rather than sectarian language is a significant change. Being a Shiite is no longer key to her survival.
With violence subsiding throughout Baghdad, residents said that sectarianism is becoming less pervasive. They're starting to think of themselves as Iraqis, not as hostages to hyphenated, sectarian identities.
Residents said they visit relatives in neighborhoods of opposite sects. Taxi drivers said they can travel around blast walls to neighborhoods outside their own sect. Sunnis can get medical care at Shiite-run hospitals.
Shiites can share a minibus with Sunnis without fearing that they'll be signaled out at an illegal checkpoint. Teachers no longer feel pressure to give students of one sect higher grades than they give their classmates in another sect.
Most Iraqis, however, aren't convinced that the drop in sectarian violence, now at its lowest levels since March 2004, according to the U.S. military, will last.
Instead, they think that the violence will continue to swing like a pendulum along with the security situation. Indeed, periodic spurts of violence remind residents that Sunni and Shiite extremist groups are still warring. On Sunday, a truck bomb killed at least 12 people in northern Baghdad, and a roadside bomb killed six more south of the capital. Last month, a string of bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk killed more than 50 people in one day.
"The situation is better, but how much better? And is it real?" asked Muhenned Nebeel, a 29-year-old Sunni from western Baghdad. "My maternal uncle is Shiite, and before, they were unable to visit us at all. Now they do visit us, regularly. But at the same time they have to be careful not to make themselves conspicuous - just in case."
But for now, Iraqis told McClatchy, they're trying to embrace the improved security and do things such as visit relatives of other sects whom they haven't seen for years.
According the statistics compiled by the U.S. military, about 1,600 civilians were killed in "ethno-sectarian" incidents in Baghdad in December 2006, at the height of violence, compared with handful who've been killed in sectarian violence since May.