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Baghdad Celebrates as Decade-Old Curfew Lifted

People in Baghdad celebrated early Sunday morning as a decade-old curfew was lifted. The rule was implemented in 2004 after the U.S.-led invasion a year earlier.
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Revelers and security forces poured onto the streets of the Iraqi capital overnight Sunday as a decade-long curfew for security was lifted.

Iraq's famous composer and orchestra leader Karim Wasfi brought his cello into the street to play for joyous crowds after midnight, performing a variety of classical music and helping usher in the new era after midnight.

"Lifting the curfew will help us to find a wider chance to show our art and creativity to the people," Wasfi told NBC News. Still, he noted that there will need to be increased vigilance now that freedom of movement has returned.

"I hope that the freedom of movement is not going to cause problems for the people," he added.

The midnight to 5 a.m. curfew has been in place since 2004 — an attempt to minimize danger to Baghdad’s residents amid an upsurge in sectarian violence following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"I believe that some people are going to create chaos at night"

There was a heavy security presence on the streets of Baghdad early Sunday as the curfew ended — and deadly reminders of the risks still facing the capital. At least 40 people were killed in bombings in and around Baghdad in the hours before the curfew ended, according to The Associated Press.

Image: Iraqis celebrate after the lifting of the night-time curfew
In this Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015 photo, Iraqis celebrate after the lifting of the night-time curfew at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq. Baghdad's decade-old nightly curfew ended after midnight Sunday, hours after bombs exploded in and around the Iraqi capital, killing at least 40 people in a stark warning of the dangers still ahead in this country under attack by the Islamic State group.Karim Kadim / AP

Officials say that efforts already are in place to bolster security. Lt. General Abdul Ameer al-Shimari, commander of Iraq's security forces in Baghdad, said the number of night patrols and checkpoints will increase now that the curfew has ended.

"The security forces are prepared well in order to keep Baghdad and the people of Baghdad safe," he told NBC News. "The Iraqi security forces will serve the people…Their safety is our priority."

The Baghdad traffic police department also will increase its patrols, according to spokesman Brig. Gen. Ammar Al-Khayat.

"Lifting the curfew will help us to find a wider chance to show our art and creativity to the people"

"We are happy for lifting the curfew, happy to see people going on in the streets after midnight," Baghdad traffic police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ammar al-Khayat told NBC News. "Baghdad used to be like a ghost city after midnight."

"We will do our best in order to facilitate the movement of people and to be sure, that there is no traffic jams in the streets of Baghdad," he added.

One taxi driver, who declined to give his name, was thrilled by the move.

"Finally I will be able to work at night instead of being trapped in traffic jams during the day," he told NBC News as he drove through the now-opened streets of Baghdad.

Other Iraqis specifically praised Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for moving to lift the curfew.

"It is a really brave decision by al-Abadi," one 25-year-old told NBC News. "We are thankful," said a 22-year-old nearby. "Look at the people - they are happy." Both requested anonymity because they said they feared for their safety.

Amid the music, car horns and cheering around them, echoes of those mens' fears were ever-present.

"I believe that some people are going to create chaos at night," one 45-year-old man told NBC News.

"Criminals and terrorists will have more time to commit crimes and terrorist attacks, so we need our security forces to be aware of this," added a 42-year-old man nearby.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.