YOU READ the paper or watch the nightly news, so of course you know about the bad things happening in Iraq. Last week a terrorist's bomb devastated a downtown street in Baquba, murdering 68 innocent Iraqis and wounding dozens more. Every day brings fresh kidnappings -- some committed by Islamists bent on power, some by thugs interested only in ransom. Insurgent violence continues to flare, and by now more than 900 US troops have lost their lives.
No wonder so many Americans think Iraq is a mess. And no wonder the latest polls show that nearly half of the public now believes the war in Iraq wasn't worth fighting.
The press tends to emphasize what's going wrong in Iraq because of an inbuilt bias for the negative -- only the plane that crashes, not the 999 that land safely, make news. The result is that while the bad news in Iraq gets reported everywhere, the reports of good news you have to look for.
Well, seek and ye shall find. Here are half a dozen encouraging developments on the ground in Iraq, all of them reported during July. (Most of these are drawn from a much larger roundup by Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff, whose website -- chrenkoff.blogspot.com -- is a cornucopia of evidence that there is much to cheer in post-Saddam Iraq.)
Freedom of speech is alive and well, especially at Baghdad's Radio Dijla, the first independent all-talk radio station in the Arab world. Launched just three months ago, Radio Dijla now gets 18,000 calls a day -- far more than its small staff can answer. Everybody from laborers to ministry officials tunes in, and callers are free to speak about anything at all (only incitement to violence is taboo). Under Saddam, criticizing a government minister could get you beaten, jailed, or worse. Today government ministers go on Radio Dijla so ordinary Iraqis can give them a piece of their mind.
Gradually, civic order is replacing chaos. A Baghdad traffic cop notices that drivers now stop on his signal. "Before, you found hardly anyone listening to you," Inspector Adnan Kadhum told USA Today. "Now, by barely moving my hand, I get respect." Perhaps the decrease in lawlessness on the roads reflects Iraqis' pride in the return of sovereignty to Iraqi leaders. Perhaps it's a consequence of the police training provided by the US civilian administration before the handover. Either way, it is a harbinger of returning normalcy.
The interim government of Iyad Allawi has renounced any interest in developing nuclear weapons. "The Iraqi government will no longer spend the riches of its nation on these destructive and illegal weapons," Allawi said July 8. Of course this didn't come as a surprise. But it is welcome and reassuring nonetheless, especially after so many years of international anxiety about Saddam's nuclear ambitions.
Step by step, Iraq is coming into the 21st century. Iraq Directory, a source for business news, reports that the Iraqi railway authority is moving to introduce satellite-based computer systems to control train traffic. This would make Iraq the first country in the Middle East to make use of such technology, which are standard in the United States and Canada, but largely unknown elsewhere.
The number of weddings in Iraq has soared since the fall of Saddam. "The people I see are not affected by insecurity -- I've had a 75 percent increase," a Baghdad marriage judge told the Christian Science Monitor. "Young people are wishing for a better life, so they come to me and get married." The going rate for a dowry -- paid, in Iraq, by the groom's family -- is down sharply since the war. "Today, the girls' parents aren't asking for as much," the judge explained, "which tells us that their families don't want any barriers to marriage." Sure, people marry for all kinds of reasons. But it's hard not to see the wedding boom as anything but an Iraqi vote of confidence in the future.
The destruction of saboteurs notwithstanding, the Iraqi oil industry is making a comeback. By the end of August, the first three postwar oil contracts are expected to be awarded, reportedly to the Irish firm Petrel. As global oil deals go, the contracts are small -- they call for an investment of only about $330 million. But there will be one unmistakable change from the oil deals of yesteryear: None of the profits will be used to entrench a savage tyrant.
A fistful of good-news stories obviously don't prove that Iraq's troubles are over. But what they (and the many others compiled by Chrenkoff) suggest is that Iraq is going to make it. The economy is growing. Civil society is healing. The Iraqi people's experience of liberty, privacy, and entrepreneurship is deepening. The long frightful nightmare of the Saddam years are gone forever. The media may focus relentlessly on the bad, but Americans should have no doubts: The liberation of Iraq was a great and historic good.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.