Through a month of travel, I have seen hopeful signs of a new Iraq:
-- In the town of Ad Dujayl, U.S. soldiers and Iraqis are working together to build a new town council.
-- In the same town, I watched the imam. who wanted America out of his country, reach out for the first time to shake the hand of an Army captain, proclaiming the soldier had a "good heart."
-- And two weeks ago, in Baghdad, I wrote of a spirited protest organized just outside the U.S. Green Zone, by poor people afraid that the police would kick them out of their homes. It was peaceful dissent in a land where such actions - in such a prominent place - would surely have brought imprisonment or death under the old regime.
On Sunday, the exact site of the protest was transformed into a death zone by a suicide bomber willing to claim his own life, killing more than 30 others and wounding more than 100.
All this to strike a blow against the U.S. occupation and any Iraqis who dared to venture anywhere near the gate that leads inside the Green Zone - to the U.S. seat of power.
For me, the bomb attack was a sobering reminder of the savagery that some are willing to unleash here in Iraq. And it appears likely that the New Year -- like the old - will be filled with more such bitter surprises as America struggles to shape the future of this nation.
It is in this task, despite the skill and sacrifices of our troops and the billions of dollars of taxpayer spending, that we risk running up against the limits of American power.
On Monday, there was a reminder of the political uncertainties still hanging over Iraq. A crowd of 100,000 Shiite Muslims marched peacefully through Baghdad streets to demand that the new government scheduled to take power in June be elected by the people, rather than through caucuses now planned by the Bush administration.
The Shiites have been some of the strongest backers of the U.S. invasion but as I traveled through their southern homeland, some cautioned that could change.
"The people are very tired now. Saddam treated us like animals and broke our spirit. Now we are one with the United States," said an Iraqi Shiite whose strong ties to the west include a brother in Europe. "But America needs to do more. Otherwise the people will fight. Even I will fight if my Sheik tells me so."