BAGHDAD, Iraq – Need hard evidence that, while far from perfect, life is creeping toward tolerable in Iraq? Try this: the price of a gallon of regular gasoline is 10 cents. That's right, 10 cents a gallon for gas in the land we rescued from misery and are now administering, to no one's satisfaction.
Check your credit card slip after you've filled up the next time, and ask yourself if Iraq is a hopeless quagmire.
Not only is it cheap, it's easy to get. Gasoline lines, one of the most visible of Iraqis' complaints after the U.S. invasion, have all but disappeared. And for those too impatient to swing into a gas station, the main roads around Baghdad are dotted with men and boys selling 10-gallon jerry cans of black market gas for instant tanking up.
It sells for about 30 cents a gallon. That's for black market gas. Black markets usually exist only for hard-to-get, or illegal goods.
A final proof that gas is easy to get: The streets of central Baghdad are clogged with traffic most days, a cacophony of horns, hisses and fender-kisses, like any other great metropolis in this part of the world.
The $1 fillup might not be surprising in an oil-rich country like Iraq. Saddam Hussein kept gas prices artificially low for years. The Coalition Provisional Authority (search), overseen by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer (search), knows better than to let prices spike suddenly, thus inviting the same kind of popular discontent you'd see in any American city if prices at the pump tripled. Yet this everyday aspect of life in post-Saddam Iraq gets far less attention than it deserves.
Of course, there are problems here that Americans can only imagine in nightmares -- daily mortar and rocket assaults that have killed nearly 1,000 Iraqis since the announced end of major combat in May.
That number is often obscured in the U.S. by the 156 American servicemen and women who have been killed in the post-invasion period. The latest incident came today, when a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in the town of Taji, northwest of Baghdad.
Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling of the 1st Armored Division (search), who's in charge of U.S. forces in the Baghdad area, acknowledges that terrorist incidents have spiked in the past week or so, but he believes his forces are gradually drawing a bead on those responsible.
"Some of these are former Iraqi army guys who are out of work," Hertling said Wednesday. "They know how to handle and launch these devices, which not everyone does." As evidence of that, Hertling recalled coming upon the remains of a would-be terrorist whose device exploded too soon: "The biggest piece of him we found was a hand."
There is, naturally, work still to be done. Iraqis know that and they want progress to be steady and swift.
But the torture chambers are empty, except for mice and memories. And people who were once too terrorized to offer an opinion are no longer mute in the face of authority. In the space of a two-mile journey today, I saw a demonstration against the U.S. and the newly painted headquarters of the Communist Party of Iraq.
For most Iraqis, the biggest problems of everyday life are slowly being dealt with. Electricity, which was off or intermittent for months, is now in fairly steady supply to most of the country. The sewage system, which like the power grid and other parts of the national infrastructure was ignored for nearly 30 years by Saddam Hussein, is functioning, if not perfectly.
Some 2.3 million barrels of oil are being pumped daily. And while the pipelines that carry crude out of Iraq are occasional targets, they continue to operate. In the very least, it is generating instant revenue for a nation in need of hope for the future. That future is as murky as untreated petroleum, and -- for all the setbacks -- it holds equal promise.
John Moody is senior vice president of Fox News.