The cycle of murder and vengeance grinds quickly in Iraq. In the western city of Tal Afar, it was all over in 10 minutes.
No one saw how Jamil Salem Jamil, 19, arrived. A slim Sunni youth, with a thick crop of black hair above his elongated features, he walked down the alley to the house where Khosheed Abbas, a policeman, his fiancee, Mariam Azzideen, and their families, all Shiites, were sitting down to a simple wedding feast.
When Jamil tried to force his way into the courtyard of the house, Khosheed bundled him away, saving his fiancee and several dozen family members. But not himself. As Jamil staggered back he detonated his suicide vest, cutting down four of the family, including two young children, one of them, Bushyr, a girl aged 6.
And in an Iraq still gripped by sectarian violence these things are not so easily concluded.
As Jamil and his victims died, another family in this mixed Shiite-Sunni neighbourhood were also sitting down to eat. They were Sunnis this time, living 100m distant, the family of Jihan Salah, also 19, who was standing in her family's courtyard behind locked metal doors.
When Khosheed's father came looking for someone to shoot - came looking for a Sunni - that person was Jihan.
So Jamil's limbs, yellow and waxy, were gathered like branches and tossed into a gutter, and the bodies of the others taken to the morgue.
It is one defining image of Iraq, horrible and too familiar. Yet it is not the only one. For there are two Iraqs in evidence these days: not just the one where weddings are bombed and young women murdered in reply.
The other Iraq is harder to dramatise but it is equally real. It is a place where boring, ordinary things take place. And become extraordinary in the context of conflict.
Last week it was the opening of a US$20 million government centre next to Tal Afar's ancient ruined fort.
The day before Jamil detonated his explosives belt, the sheiks and dignitaries crowded through the building's corridors, muttering approvingly as they examined its new painted walls, the photocopiers, printers and computers - some of them still wrapped in plastic - sitting on the brand new desks.
The debate over whether to pull out of Iraq took on an urgent new intensity as the struggle between the Democrat-led Congress and the White House of President George W. Bush finally reached a head.
Driven by a presidential election cycle, six years of building animosity in US politics has finally been focused on the lightning rod that is Iraq.
After four years of war, perhaps more than 650,000 Iraqi dead, it has come to a single question of accounting: which of the two Iraqs is winning, the Iraq of death or an Iraq that looks to peace?
It is a false dichotomy. For the two Iraqs - for now at least - are co-existent. It is a dangerous one, too.
For the expectation that America may be crumbling over Iraq - and may leave soon - has acted as an accelerant where the violence is worst, leading General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, to warn that in the worst areas the next few months may see a mini-Tet offensive designed to push US politics over the brink.
In practical terms there is a gulf between Washington and the views of the generals on the ground.
For while the Democrats are pushing for rapid withdrawal that would see most US troops out by April, the commander of the forces in the country's north, General Benjamin Mixon, has made it clear it would take 18 months to safely reduce just half of his forces. However, he believes Nineveh could be handed over by this northern autumn.
In his office in the northern city of Mosul, Mixon's deputy, General Frank Wiercinski, is convinced that, in his divisional area at least - if not in Baghdad - a long sought-for stabilisation is finally occurring.
"There is a line I think that separates the areas that are becoming more secure from those where there is still heavy fighting. And I think that line is moving slowly south now through Diyalah.
"In my personal opinion it is not the time to pull out. We are at the apex.
"The war out there that is going on is with Iraqis in the lead and I don't feel we can just say: 'See you!"'
And while in Iraq it has usually been the best policy to deal with officials with a strong dose of scepticism following the years of pronouncements of victory around the corner, for now at least there appears to be evidence that in the north, the war may be drawing, ever so slowly, towards some kind of close.
In Mosul, which once hosted 21,000 US soldiers, only a single battalion, in the mid-hundreds, remains inside the city, matched by a drop in attacks.
And it is not only in Mosul that security is improving. The sense that things are getting better is reflected in Nineveh province. In two years US troops around Tal Afar, once the heartland of al Qaeda, have been reduced from 6000 to 1200. The general trend for acts of violence - despite some spikes - also has been steadily decreasing.
Until Jamil Salem Jamil detonated his human bomb there had not been a suicide vest attack in Tal Afar since January 14.
And there are other striking indicators. The last time I flew across this area, two years ago, what agriculture there was was sporadic. Now it has turned golden with an expanse of freshly cut wheat fields that have turned the plains that touch the Kurdish foothills into a vast prairie, using every patch of viable land.
But the other Iraq lingers here strongly, too. Despite two years of effort, organised destabilising violence still exists, largely displaced out of the urban centres to the villages of Nineveh's plain. From their hideouts there, insurgents have turned their attention to attacking roads, bridges and power lines with the aim of separating its rival population groups.
But ask Iraqis or Americans what the biggest problem is in Tal Afar and Mosul and they will mention the Government of Iraq. All of which raises two critical questions: whether what has happened in Iraq's north can be sustained, and whether - with the same time available - it is applicable elsewhere.
"It would be the easiest thing," says Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Frost, the squadron commander of 3/4th US Cavalry in Tal Afar, "to put a stake in the ground and declare victory here in Nineveh. But there are three or four things needed for the conditions to be set for a withdrawal. And my biggest problem is to get support and linkages from the central Iraqi Government.
"So far we have not seen a single dollar from the 2007 budget get down to this level."
Tal Afar, too, has struggled to get deliveries of food, propane and gas. And Frost is cautious about extrapolating the advances made by applying "clear, hold, build" in Tal Afar, where it was pioneered over two years, to Baghdad.
"There is an order of magnitude at work here. Tal Afar measures 3km by 3km and has a population of 200,000. I don't know the precise troop and force configuration in Baghdad and whether it can work. But the holding is the difficult part. And in Baghdad you have to hold everywhere at once."
It is 1am in Zafraniya, a Shiite stronghold in southern Baghdad. When the men of the 2/17 Field Artillery rush into the Salah household, it is quickly clear something is wrong.
The tip-off says there are injured senior members of Moqtadr al-Sadr's Shiite militia - the Medhi army - hiding here. The men are anxious, shouting at the family. The address and family name are right, but everything else seems wrong.
Crucifixes hanging on the wall and devotional prints; photographs of christenings and first communions. Later after the apologies have been delivered, one of the men speculates on the reason for the false tip.
Sectarian malice, perhaps, could be a motive against a middle-class Christian family - to unsettle them and force them out.
More worrying is the feeling that it is a ruse perpetrated by the Medhi army itself to test the response time of the soldiers for a future ambush, of the kind that is becoming increasingly more common.
If Tal Afar was bad and now improving, then Zafraniya is its opposite, one of the successes of the Baghdad surge that is turning corrosively dangerous again.
For if there is renewed violence in Zafraniya, then some of it is paradoxically a direct consequence of the surge's earlier gains. Then - in February and March - Moqtadr al-Sadr ordered the withdrawal of the leadership of his organisation to put them out of the way of the US surge.
Other leaders who remained in the Medhi army's second-most powerful base inside Baghdad were detained, weakening the organisation until Sadr ordered the renewal of hostilities with US forces to re-establish his power.
In the sometimes lethal power struggle that followed in the organisation, the violence has been directed increasingly at US forces by aspirant new leaders keen to demonstrate their claim to authority.
It is a crucial point. For in the glib parsing of Iraq into broad ideological themes and benchmarks, something of the nature of the country's chaotic violence has been lost. How often the killings prove to be motivated by family, tribe and sect - by malice and greed.
By Saturday the same question was being asked about Jamil Salem Jamil.
"Clearly he was a member of al Qaeda," says General Qais Kalaf of the Iraqi Army in Tal Afar. "He had a suicide vest. But it seems he was known in the neighbourhood. He chose that family. There was some personal grudge at work."
In the end it is no consolation to the relatives of last week's dead, including the family of Jihan Salah.
"What did this have to do with us?" asked Maha Mohammed, the mother of Jihan. "What did we do? We were only trying to eat our meal."
So the two Iraqs continue to collide.