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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.

Multimedia

Interactive timeline, image gallery

Recall key dates, browse defining photos from six weeks of combat in Iraq. (Requires Flash)

 

Recent headlines

General: Iraqi troops improve

January 26, 2005

Parties waging a polite battle to control Najaf

January 25, 2005

In Iraq, the question is: To vote or not to vote

January 25, 2005

Politics popular in Shiite areas

January 20, 2005

 

Also on the Web

Dispatches from Iraq

Special coverage and photo galleries of American troops serving in Iraq from The Honolulu Advertiser.

Iraq In-Depth

Take an interactive tour of Saddam's hide-out and capture at USATODAY.com's Iraq home page.

 

GNS Archive

Click here to browse more than 1,000 Iraq war news stories from the front lines and the home front.

 

 

Friday, March 12

Essay: Public paying less attention to Iraq war a year later

By Mike Lopresti | GNS

Somewhere out there is a war. Or whatever it is now.

Iraq has entered the gray courtyard of the national consciousness. Still too dangerous and too bloody and too unsettled to be forgotten. But too familiar now to always hold attention. Where there is shooting and dying but not always enough of it to lead the evening news.

That is what a year can do. With no conclusion, no happy ending, no exit line, no sunset to walk off into, the public is easily distracted. Gay couples are getting married at the courthouse, Haiti is a hot spot, Barry Bonds is being asked steroid questions. Events in Iraq must sometimes now fight for airtime.

Occasionally a plot twist from Baghdad comes out of the television screen. What‘d they do now, attack a police station?

We stop, pause, take a closer look, and then get back to Martha Stewart.

Unless, of course, there is a son or husband or father or wife or daughter in Iraq. Then there is no gray area. And not a minute, worried day or wakeful night, when this is not a war.

There must be times they feel alone now. The loved ones at home, for whom Iraq is still the big story, still the only story.

Back in its telegenic early days — tanks racing across the desert, with the wind and dust blowing in the embedded correspondents‘ hair — the war had our rapt, full attention. Whether one embraced the White House policy or not, the troops were the stars, the stage was clear and vivid, and the story line fit neatly into the shape of a television screen. All Iraq, all the time.

But now the action is not so easy to follow. Rather than palaces stormed and statues toppled, small roadside bombs keep going off, taking tolls of one or two at a time.

A constitution has just been signed, but by whom? And concerning what?

It is harder to follow, for an impatient culture, always eager to move on. Americans are still curious and concerned, but a lot of them look in only occasionally to see what is happening, like football fans who click on a game just long enough to check the score.

The stakes are no smaller than they were before, of course. The issues no less pressing. The sacrifice of the troops no less commendable. The fears of the families no less real.

But it has been a year. The public at large doesn‘t take long to grow uncomfortable and restless, waiting for something definitive. That is the language we speak here in the land of drive-through windows.

How much longer is this going to take?

Can I have it back tomorrow?

Are we there yet?

No, we‘re not.

Plus, this is an election year. When we are instructed from all sides what we should be worried about and whom we should blame for it.

Iraq will naturally be part of the conversation. How much depends on what the pollsters report. Will it move voting blocs or not?

Howard Dean sought to ride Iraq to election in November. Iraq did not even get him to March.

George Bush‘s trust factor is now on the table because of the war. But then, so is the mettle of the Democrats, who are always viewed a little suspiciously once the shooting starts anywhere.

After a year, Iraq perhaps has us less absorbed, but more fidgety. It has become a fixture on an edgy landscape.

What we know, in our shifting moods and short attention spans, is that something big is still going on over there. A reminder that the world is not a simple place, and its wars are never easy.