The Korean War used to be known as "the forgotten war." More recently, during the hey-day of the Bush administration's adventure here in Iraq, Afghanistan was the forgotten war. No more, of course.
Now, it seems, Iraq is the forgotten war. I've been here nearly 5 weeks now, and I'm amazed at how far this conflict has fallen in the American consciousness, if I am judging it correctly from thousands of miles away. Iraq is off the front pages, off the television screens and, for the most part, off the main page of major news Web sites.
This isn't entirely a bad thing. News follows conflict and bloodshed, and Iraq has less of both than it used to. Sectarian violence is still an every-day occurence, but it is way down. U.S. troop deaths are way down too - there were two deaths each in October and November from combat-related injuries. Most of Iraq's problems now are of a more complex, murkier political and economic variety.
But that's no reason not to pay attention. Iraq appears to be at a tipping point, where things here could get a wholoe lot better--and still go badly, badly wrong. And what happens in Iraq matters a lot, because of its oil, because of its central geographic position in the Middle East, because of the US invasion here, and because it's the only Shiite-dominated political system in the Arab world.
In other words, just as Iraq enters a really critical period, where its leaders will decide whether they will solve differences without violence, and when the country truly stands on its own with a much smaller crutch from the US. -- many in the West have stopped paying steady attention.
The once-huge international press corps here has shrunken significantly, with many verteran war correspondents decamped to Afghanistan. Major U.S. TV networks have pulled out, or are in the process of doing so. Other news organizations are hanging on until after the elections, which have been delayed from January to at least late February or March. (McClatchy, I am proud to say, plans to maintain a presence in Baghdad).
One of my Iraqi colleagues and I were talking the other day and, sad to say, we both knew what it would take to bring Iraq back to the front pages and the television screens. A major bombing that kills dozens or hundreds. Renewed civil strife. Iraq really having weapons of mass destruction.
Regardless of your views of the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in the first place, the United States has spent enormous amounts of blood, treasure, political capital here in Mesopotamia. It's been the subject of a divisive national debate and played a role in elections for offices high and low.
And the story is not over. So keep paying attention. I know that even after my assignment here is complete, I will.