But the years that followed have brought only misery, he said, looking at photos of three of his sons killed in attacks in the ensuing chaos.
After the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq, freed from nearly a quarter century of dictatorship, descended into violence.
Sectarian clashes and jihadist attacks divided families and killed tens of thousands of people, leaving behind wounds that have yet to heal and a lagging economy.
In July 2007, Abu Ali’s eldest son, 18 at the time, was killed when a car bomb hit a busy street in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood.
He had been selling watermelons to passers-by trying to escape the summer heat.
Six years later almost to the day, the taxi driver’s two younger sons, Alaa, 23, and Abbas, 17, were also killed in an attack.
The losses are written in deep lines along his face, aged well beyond his 61 years.
Abu Ali used to dream of lives for his children that would be better than his own, but now he only visits them at the cemetery.
“I go to their graves every week, I feel like they’re sitting near me,” he said, wearing a white scarf and a traditional beige robe.
‘Baghdad fell when statue fell’
Abu Ali’s hopes for a brighter future have faded.
“The situation does not bode well… no one thinks of the people,” he said. “The parties…