What is normal?

Baghdad is returning to something like a semblance of normalcy, at least as “normal” is measured in the Iraqi capital, according to major U.S. news organizations.

The New York Times reports that days now go by without car bombs. The number of bodies found on Baghdad streets has fallen to about five a day, down from about 35 eight months ago. And suicide bombings have fallen by half nationwide.

Families that were forced out and fled in fear are returning to their old neighborhoods. The numbers are still small compared with the millions displaced, but it’s still a positive development and appears to be picking up.

For the first time in nearly two years, people are moving freely about much of the city, with more and more traveling between Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, says the Times. Stores and restaurants are reopening. Weddings are again being held in public. In the most stable neighborhoods, secular women are free to dress as they please. And liquor stores are beginning to open again to lines of appreciative customers, observed the Times, “a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.”

There are overlapping explanations for the new calm.

First, the surge and more aggressive patrolling by U.S. troops. Then, disenchantment with and even active resistance to the murderous fanaticism of the insurgents, particularly the foreigners. The Washington Post reports that a mob attacked a truckload of contractor employees under the impression that they were Afghan fighters.

Even the normally inert central government has stirred itself to rein in the reckless convoys of outside security contractors that terrify the Iraqis on the roads.

Iraqis have told reporters that the next step should be police patrols and checkpoints staffed jointly by Shias and Sunnis to guarantee the safety of both sects.

The improvement may be only temporary, lasting only as long as the surge. Experience has taught us how alarmingly fast things can deteriorate in Iraq, and this falls well short of light at the end of the tunnel. But it is, indubitably, good news and we’ll take all of that we can get.

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