After weathering nearly five years of war, Baghdad residents thought they'd pretty much seen it all. But Friday morning, as muezzins were calling the faithful to prayer, the people here awoke to something certifiably new.
For the first time in memory, snow fell across Baghdad.
Although the white flakes quickly dissolved into gray puddles, they brought an emotion rarely expressed in this desert capital snarled by army checkpoints, divided by concrete walls and ravaged by sectarian killings - delight.
"For the first time in my life I saw a snow-rain like this falling in Baghdad," said Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, a 63-year-old retiree from the New Baghdad area.
"When I was young, I heard from my father that such rain had fallen in the early '40s on the outskirts of northern Baghdad," Abdul-Hussein said, referring to snow as a type of rain. "But snow falling in Baghdad in such a magnificent scene was beyond my imagination."
Morning temperatures uncharacteristically hovered around freezing, and the Baghdad airport was closed because of poor visibility. Snow is common in the mountainous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, but residents of the capital and surrounding areas could remember just hail.
"I asked my mother, who is 80, whether she'd ever seen snow in Iraq before, and her answer was no," said Fawzi Karim, a 40-year-old father of five who runs a small restaurant in Hawr Rajab, a village six miles southeast of Baghdad.
"This is so unusual, and I don't know whether or not it's a lesson from God," Karim said.
Some said they'd seen snow only in movies.
Talib Haider, a 19-year-old college student, said "a friend of mine called me at 8 a.m. to wake me up and tell me that the sky is raining snow."
"I rushed quickly to the balcony to see a very beautiful scene," he said. "I tried to film it with my cell phone camera. This scene has really brought me joy. I called my other friends and the morning turned to be a very happy one in my life."
An Iraqi who works for The Associated Press said he woke his wife and children shortly after 7 a.m. to "have a look at this strange thing." He then called his brother and sister and found them awake, also watching the "cotton-like snow drops covering the trees."
For a couple of hours anyway, a city where mortar shells routinely zoom across to the Green Zone became united as one big White Zone. As of late afternoon, there were no reports of violence. The snow showed no favoritism as it fell faintly on neighborhoods Shiite and Sunni alike, and (with apologies to James Joyce) upon all the living and the dead.
© MVIII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed