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What's going right in Iraq

TO HEAR the media tell it, virtually nothing in Iraq is going right. Suicide terrorism, Abu Ghraib, sabotaged pipelines, swelling anti-American sentiment -- the coverage has focused on almost all bad news, almost all the time.

But don't be fooled. There are plenty of good-news stories in Iraq, too. Here are half a dozen.

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Moqtada al-Sadr's uprising is kaput. The firebrand cleric issued a statement on Wednesday directing his gunmen to stop fighting and go home. If they comply, the bloody rebellion he launched in April will have ended in failure.

Sadr never managed to win mass support among Iraq's Shi'ites; indeed he was taken to the woodshed by the country's senior Shi'ite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Now Sadr says he supports the interim Iraqi government, and will set up a political party of his own. It wasn't long ago that Sadr was denouncing Iraqi politicians for cooperating with the United States. Now he is poised to become one of them.

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For the first time, an Iraqi soccer team has qualified for the Olympics. All told, some 30 Iraqi athletes will be traveling to the games in Athens this summer.They will be able to compete without fear, knowing that even if they fail to bring home a medal, there will be no punishment at the hands of Uday Saddam Hussein. It was the practice of the dictator's late son to torture Iraqi athletes who were not successful in international competitions. Thanks to the US Army, Uday and his sadism no longer exist.

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In the first quarter of 2004, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports, fewer than 93,000 people sought political asylum in the developed nations -- 16 percent below the previous quarter and a drop of more than 25 percent from the first quarter of 2003.

Why the decline? Because Afghans and Iraqis, who used to make up the largest groups of asylum-seekers, are now far less likely to flee their homelands. From Jan. 1 to March 31 of this year, only 2,143 Iraqis requested asylum in another country -- 81 percent less than in the same quarter last year. As one commentator has noted, that's what happens when UNHCR's "partners" include the US Marines.

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With the help of a retired US naval officer, scouting is being revived in Iraq. Chip Beck, a former Boy Scout himself, is recruiting 80 young Iraqis for leadership training by the Arab Scout Association in Cairo. Volunteer scouting in Iraq dates back to 1921, but the movement was crippled during Saddam's reign. Now, along with Texas businessman (and former Eagle Scout) Mike Bradle, Beck hopes to raise $4 million to establish a scouting camp for boys and girls in a former secret police compound on the Tigris River near Baghdad.

"If the world is looking to combat violence and extremism," Beck says, "the Scout method of teaching universal values -- honor, integrity, and morality -- is proven."

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According to veteran Middle East journalist Amir Taheri, there is good news on the economic front as well. The value of the Iraqi dinar has grown by almost 15 percent in the last three months against the US dollar. It has similarly gained on the Kuwaiti dinar and the Iranian rial, the two most-traded local currencies. Despite the recent violence, millions of Shi'ite pilgrims are visiting (and spending money in) Najaf and Karbala, where a building boom is underway. Meanwhile, Iraqi farmers have harvested a record wheat crop, raising hopes that the country might once again become, as it was before Saddam, agriculturally self-sufficient.

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On June 11, US military commanders bestowed awards for valor on five Iraqis -- soldiers in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps -- for saving the life of a US Marine during an ambush in Al Karmah. When the Marine was shot by insurgents, the Iraqi riflemen with whom he and other members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were patrolling with didn't hesitate. The citation presented to Imad Abid Zeid Jassim tells the story:

"Under a hail of enemy fire that was accurately targeted on the wounded Marine, and without regard for his own safety, Private Imad Jassim moved forward . . . . He dragged the wounded Marine out of the line of fire to a covered and concealed position . . . aggressively pushed forward . . . dislodged the enemy fighters. . . . His efforts clearly saved the life of the Marine."

You might not know it from much of the press coverage, but not all Iraqis hate their American "occupiers." Many appreciate the sacrifices US troops are making to secure Iraqi freedom. Some appreciate it so much, in fact, that they are willing to put their lives on the line when an American soldier is in danger.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is jacoby@globe.com. 

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