IT WOULD BE foolish to pretend that currently Iraq is as peaceful as the Costa Brava during the winter, but it's equally nonsense to loose perspective, writes Mark Steyn:
After the predictions of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and a mass refugee crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe and wall-to-wall cholera and dysentery all failed to pan out, the naysayers fell back on predictions of imminent civil war. But the civil war's as mythical as the universal dysentery.
There is a problem in the Sunni Triangle and in certain Baghdad suburbs. If you look at the figures for August, over half the 71 US fatalities that month died in one province - al-Anbar, which covers much of the Sunni Triangle.
Most of the remainder were killed dispatching young Sadr's goons in Najaf or in operations against other Sunni Triangulators in Samarra, with a couple of isolated incidents in Mosul and Kirkuk. In 11 of Iraq's 18 provinces, not a single US soldier died.
Do you remember that moment of Fallujah-like depravity in Ulster a few years ago? Two soldiers were yanked from a cab in the wrong part of town and torn apart by a Republican mob. A terrible, shaming episode in the wretched annals of Northern Irish nationalists. But in the rest of the United Kingdom - in Bristol, in Coventry, Newcastle, Aberdeen - life went on, very pleasantly.
That's the way it is in Iraq. In two-thirds of the country, municipal government has been rebuilt, business is good, restaurants are open, life is as jolly as it has been in living memory. This summer the Shia province of Dhi Qar, south-east of Baghdad, held the first free elections in its history, electing secular independents and non-religious parties to its town councils.
The Kurdish North, which would be agitating for secession if real civil war were looming, is for the moment content to be Scotland. The Sunni Triangle, meanwhile, looks like being the fledgling Iraqi federation's Northern Ireland for a while to come.
That's a pity. But, if you can quarantine it, the difference between it and the rest of the country will become starker, month by month.
UPDATE. Marzo, at HispaLibertas, rightly considers that Steyn's last paragraph is also remarkable for its strategic implications:
A few weeks ago, Prof Bernard Lewis, the great historian of the Muslim world, told Die Welt that "Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century". That seems demographically unavoidable.And adds: "Or Spain. And Europe, Spain included, has a bigger stakes, and sooner, than the US."
Given that much of what we now know as the civilised world will be Muslim, it seems prudent to ensure that what is already the Muslim world is civilised. And, for those who say that Islam is incompatible with democracy, we might as well try to buck that in Iraq today than in France, Scandinavia and Britain the day after tomorrow.