Iraq's Real Problem

It's not the terrorists. It's not the Syrians. It's not even the Baathists or the Sunnis.

The biggest problems facing the fledgling democracy in Iraq is attention deficit disorder from the American public and the international community, and the relentless hatchet jobs emanating from some Western media and policy pundits.

Although terrorism continues unabated in Iraq, few expect the government to topple or a civil war to begin. The terrorists -- a mix of fanatics who dream of creating a Taliban-style dictatorship, unrepentant Baathists, secular extremists, criminals and others -- don't seem to hold much national appeal.

While it doesn't seem the terrorists can win, it does look like the Iraqi government can succeed if it maintains its present course.

The government has no significant humanitarian crisis to fix. Few face disease or starvation. Yes, civilian casualties continue. According to the Associated Press, more than 1,000 people have died since April 28 from terror attacks. But life today in Iraq is better than it was under Saddam Hussein.

The political process continues to move forward. The next round of elections is scheduled for the end of this year. The economy, which grew by 52.3 percent in 2004, continues to move forward. And Iraqi police and military forces continue to shoulder progressively more responsibility for their country's security.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem likely the violence will end soon. Periodically murdering civilians is relatively cheap and easy. And though terrorist campaigns rarely succeed, they are notoriously difficult to stamp out.

That's where the attention-deficit problem comes in. As Iraqis become increasingly accountable for their own destiny, it will be up to them to convince Americans and others that they can outlast the terrorists, establish a stable government and build a strong civil society.

The Iraqis simply cannot afford for the West to lose interest in their struggle. They need help in training, equiping and supporting their security forces. They need help, such as they had with the recent arrests in Spain, to choke off sources of recruiting and fundraising for foreign terrorists who view Iraq as some kind of extremist Disneyland.

They need help in pressuring Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia to stop terrorists from hiding out in their countries and slipping back and forth across the border. And they need Muslim voices everywhere, but particularly in the West, to stand up and denounce the apostates in Iraq who murder civilians not for the cause of religion or liberation, but out of self-interest and blind hatred.

They also need Western media to help--by reporting political, economic, security or social progress at least as often as, if not more than, they report their daily dose of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and other mayhem. A nation's struggle for freedom is news.

Having been ruled by diktat for three decades, the Iraqis will struggle in coming years to find qualified leaders who can make their case to the outside world. This will be doubly difficult given that the Western press -- when it's not chronicling the latest suicide bombing -- can be expected to report on every misstep and setback. The front men (and women) -- those charged with projecting Iraq's image to the rest of the world -- will be among the country's most valuable citizens in coming years.

The public in Europe and the United States can help, as well, just by making an effort to look beyond the daily headlines when they consider the fate of 25 million Iraqis and the prospects of the Middle East. That should be a forward-looking exercise, one that considers the kind of Iraq we want to be dealing with 10 or 20 years from now.

What Westerners shouldn't do is turn their backs on Iraq. It's a country that can be saved, that can be the beacon of freedom in the Middle East. It's worth our help.

Dr. Carafano, co-author of "Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom," is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation.

James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies  The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.