It's the first day of another month: pay day for Iraqi police and soldiers. In an upscale part of Baghdad, officers file into a bank to collect cash to pay their men. It's not a lot of money for men taking a lot of risk. A car bomb suddenly explodes. At least 14 people are killed. But news of the attack barely registers in many of America's news outlets.
Just yesterday, in broad daylight, a convoy of 11 SUVs pulled into the same part of Baghdad. They should have been a hard group to miss, especially when out poured gunmen wearing military fatigues. They burst into two street-level companies, kidnapping 26 employees and customers. Poof — everyone gone, the hunters and the hunted, in a mass-kidnap that's about as brazen as it gets. And this was the same neighborhood where last week, a rocket barrage followed by a car bomb had killed 31 people. Again, few Americans heard about any of it, because by and large, the news was under-reported.
Why? Partly, it's because there's a growing sense of "Iraq fatigue." To many American looking on, the daily drumbeat of death and despair has a certain sameness. It seems numbing after awhile. And all this has been going on for more than three years now, with no clear end in sight.
And partly, before Fidel Castro's surgery, the world's focus had shifted to the Israel's border with Lebanon. No question, bad and bloody things are happening there, too. The newest Middle East "hot spot" has become hotter news.
But consider this: As awful and tragic as the news has been from Israel and Lebanon — as searing as those images were of Lebanese innocents killed in Qana by that Israeli strike — the violence here in Iraq has been worse. More bloody, not some days, but every day. Qana's casualty count is a relatively "light" day in Iraq.
Lebanon's government says Israel's military has killed 750 Lebanese civilians. For more than a month running, that's roughly the weekly total for Iraqi civilians killed in relentless attacks here. (An average of 100 Iraqi civilians are getting killed every day lately, about half of them in Baghdad.) Since fighting began on the Israel-Lebanese border, 35 Israeli soldiers have been killed fighting Hezbollah. Last month in Iraq, a variety of attacks killed 44 American soldiers; some months, the number of military coffins going home to American families has been more than double that.
This is part of what the Iraq storyline still offers: savage mass killings, a relentless fear factor, death squads, terrorists, ethnic cleansing, kidnappings, a central government in crisis — all of it with political repercussions for the White House and our mid-term elections this November. And of course, there are the 130,000 American troops, often soldiering on heroically in the face of constant threats, and the 115 degree desert heat.
Pay attention to Castro, Israel and Lebanon, and the great American heat wave? Absolutely.
Just don't forget about Iraq.