Many of Iraq’s most talented musicians fled during the rule of Saddam Hussein, fearing persecution for their political views and suffering from a lack of funding and exposure if they refused to glorify the leader in their art.
Others left after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, escaping violence as war broke out. Concert venues were shuttered. Some musicians were threatened by the Iraqi arm of al Qaeda.
Now, gingerly, some musicians are making plans to come back, hoping to revive Iraq’s rich musical tradition on home soil.
"It does not seem strange now. They call me, they send me messages, they ask me what I have seen," renowned oud player Naseer Shamma said after a concert in Baghdad, his second in the country after nearly two decades in exile.
"And I say yes, now it is time to work, to help the Iraqi people. Of course every Iraqi musician needs to be here."
Heavy explosions, rockets and gunfire rattled Kabul on Sunday as Afghanistan’s Taliban launched a “spring offensive” with multiple attacks targeting Western embassies, the NATO force’s headquarters and the parliament building.
The assault, one of the most serious on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001, highlighted the ability of militants to strike the heavily guarded diplomatic zone even after more than 10 years of war.
It was also another election-year setback in Afghanistan for U.S. President Barack Obama, who wants to present the long campaign against the Taliban as a success before the departure of most foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
"These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.