About 40km from the Iraqi border, the driver warned me to hold on to my stomach. 'I have seen too many people throw up their breakfasts on this stretch, so here is a sickbag if you need it,' he said. Up until then, the road from Amman to the Iraqi border had been as flat as the proverbial pancake. Then came just a little hill, no problem, but it soon got to the stage where the sickbag made uncomfortable sense. Up and down, like a fun ride at a theme park - only without the fun. The journey had started at 2am at an Amman hotel, where what seemed like the United Nations of journalists were waiting to be collected, all heading to Baghdad to witness the city one year after the war started. This is a route well travelled by the world's media, a fact endorsed by the wall of business cards at the Aba Saif cafe, just short of the border. The cards appeared to attest: 'we made it and there's proof.' After the rough ride, nobody ordered breakfast and the cafe owner did not seem surprised. Sattar Jabbor, a civil engineer by profession but a driver by economic necessity, had insisted on leaving at 2am to get through Fallujah and into Baghdad before any 'trouble started'. The earlier in the morning the better, according to Jabbor, as trouble had an uncanny ability of happening as darkness descended. As we hit the outskirts of Fallujah, the Americans cordoned off the main road. 'A disturbance,' Jabbor noted. 'We better take a back route. There may be firing, you never know.' We went off-road through impoverished villages, with children looking at us, dogs too tired to bark and wrecked cars littering the road. Houses were half-built; homes which were nothing more than brick shacks - in a land that if time did not forget then it wasn't paying much attention to. 'This should be wealthy country,' Jabbor observed, distressed at the impoverishment that assaulted our eyes. After haring through the desert, on the outskirts of Baghdad, we were reduced to a tortoise-like crawl. More diversions lay ahead as US helicopters buzzed overhead. 'Best stay away from trouble,' Jabbor said as he veered on to the lane furthest from the soldiers. Almost as soon as the Americans arrived a year ago, the skyline of Baghdad changed. Up sprouted satellite dishes like flowers in springtime as the Iraqis wanted to tune into the world after their forced hibernation during the dark age of Ba'ath Party rule. The sense of freedom brought a type of commercial evolution. The appeal of fridges and air-conditioners is not surprising in the heat of Baghdad, and neither can the lure of mobile phones be discounted for a population that has been denied the pleasure of easy, random contact. But the electronic boom brought with it inflation and the laissez-faire policies of the coalition seem distasteful in a city where in many cases the wounds of misrule, sanctions and war are still festering. But there is a lethargy towards what is happening. If you want to see people laugh, go into a cafe or a shop and ask them about their sense of optimism. Ask them if they have a sense of hope. Their laughter will reveal a black humour at odds with the seriousness of what is taking place. Hope has not abandoned Baghdad, but people find it hard to define why they should have hope. In the Green Land cafe and shop, near Fadoos square where the Mount Lebanon Hotel was demolished with the loss of 27 lives on Wednesday night, the customers point to events that have blighted the quality of life on Baghdad's streets. Mustaffa, 47, works in stints as a handy man, although he was trained as an architect. 'Just before the war, Saddam let out the prisoners and suddenly violence on the streets became normal,' he said. 'Then the Americans allowed the massive importation of cars, which has clogged the roads. Traffic can barely move, there are thousands of unregistered cars on the streets. It is easy for car bombers to get their hands on vehicles or for kidnappers to grab people off the streets and abduct them.' An image over the past year that at the time seemed to usher in a new better era was the toppling of Saddam's statue in Fadoos square. 'But as symbolic as it was, that statue had been up less than two years, it was not one of our deep-seated concerns,' Mustaffa stated. 'It was good to see it gone but, not of great importance for most Iraqis.' Everyone in the cafe discounted the possibility of civil war, just yet. But they agreed that Iraq is embroiled in a bitter resistance fight, the point of which is to make the nation ungovernable. Sadly, what has followed their great expectations of freedom is a bitter disappointment and this is being played out at a national level. When the electricity fails, an all too frequent occurrence, it is not the utility company that gets blamed, but democracy. When a bomb goes off, it is not the radicalism of the bombers, but democracy. And for the forces of democracy, read the Americans - not the coalition, not the soon to be gone Spaniards, not the British or the Poles.