BAGHDAD —If it bleeds, it leads” is a common adage about television news. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Iraq has fallen so far from the headlines. Civilian casualties from terrorism are down an order of magnitude from just two years ago, according to United Nations statistics. Baghdad International Airport is busy with traffic from around the Middle East; its biggest problem is not insurgents taking potshots at landing aircraft but rather ridding the terminal of the pigeons which stroll among passengers eating snacks from the café or taking advantage of the airport’s free Wi-Fi. Driving from Najaf to Baghdad, there are still multiple checkpoints along the road, but traversing them now takes minutes rather than an hour or more. Iraq is getting back to normal. It may not be the same as it was in the 1970s, but that’s not a bad thing.

How many other Arab countries have now had four successive changes in power by democratic means and, in many cases, among political parties? The answer is simple: none.

Politics dominated the news and teahouse conversation during my recent visit to Iraq. Iraqis are both speculating as to the makeup of the new government and its longevity, as well as to what might happen to the Da’wa Party when out of power. Contrary to Sen. Marco Rubio’s reaction to the pick of a new Iraqi president and prime minister-designate, the new government is not any more a clear victory for Iran than it is for the United States. True, Mohamed al-Halbousi, a Sunni governor of al-Anbar, reportedly bribed his way to the speakership and may be beholden to Iran. But President Barham Salih is British-educated and spent years in Washington, D.C. True, he has a better relationship with Tehran than many of his American friends realize, but that can be as much an asset as a liability. As for Adil Abdul-Mahdi, he is a chameleon: Through his political career, he has been a communist, Baathist, Islamist, and democrat, though now he professes to be a technocrat. His colors may change (and some Iraqis doubt he will last more than a year), but he has never been for rent to outside powers in the way Shiite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr has been. Rather than push for their own dream team — Badr Corps head Hadi Ameri and Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, for example—Iranian authorities signed off on both Salih and Abdul-Mahdi in part because they understood they needed to be pragmatic and find politicians with whom both they and the Americans could work.

Iraqis also make comparisons between their own politics and America’s. If al-Sadr’s business interests, populism, and volatility make him an Iraqi equivalent of Donald Trump, then former Prime Minister al-Maliki has become the country’s Hillary Clinton, always believing a comeback is possible, and unwilling to admit defeat and step out of the limelight to allow it to shift to a new generation.

As Abdul-Mahdi forms the government, the question now before Iraqis is whether political parties will insist on a division of political spoils in the form of ministerial appointments, or whether Abdul-Mahdi will be free to form a more technocratic government. In many other Arab countries, this would be a no-brainer: patronage would win out above all. But riots in Basra at lack of government services stymied incumbent Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s attempts for a second term, and the independent religious establishment in Najaf and Karbala withheld their moral endorsement of a government widely seen as ineffective.

The point is that Iraq today is a country of multiple constituencies, and each matters. While Iraqis still embrace religious parties because of the importance of religious identity, such parties no longer have a blank check. About 40 percent of Iraqis were born after Saddam Hussein’s ouster; they are no longer willing to take reference to how bad life was under Saddam Hussein as a reason to excuse inefficiency or corruption today. Nor are they willing to allow religious parties to dictate morals or impose their will. Alcohol, for example, has returned to the Baghdad airport's duty-free. Iraqis embrace diversity of ethnicity, religious practice, and thought.

Any American who served in Iraq but left in 2004, 2007, or 2011 would find portions of the country unrecognizable today. Megamalls dot not only Iraqi Kurdistan, but have come to Baghdad as well. New businesses proliferate, and new buildings arise where there were none before. In Karbala, virtual reality arcades and swimming clubs have sprung up to give residents and visitors alike an outlet other than shrines. Even in more conservative cities, women are seen with other women hanging out and having a good time over a pizza or hookah. When Iraqis head home, they can choose from dozens of Iraqi television channels in addition to myriad Arabic satellite choices. Unlike in Turkey, for example, where all media outlets must now toe the government line, Iraqi news shows and channels are home to vigorous, if not always professional, debate.

The point of this is that Iraq is not perfect — far from it. The coming year will be a real test for the new government. Legitimacy is transitory, bestowed on a provisional basis. If the government fails to deliver, violence could reoccur. But, in comparison to Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, Iraq is a breath of fresh air. It is a place where politics is for real, and not simply a sideshow to keep diplomats busy. It is a country where leaders rise up, and then step aside peacefully. It is that rare Arab country where retired ministers outnumber those still serving, and where 70 percent of parliament is new after each election. Iraq will never be Switzerland, but it will be normal.

It is long past time the U.S. political debate moved on to address the reality and potential of Iraq today rather than continuing to treat it merely as a political football in the American context or a diplomatic and military game board on which to confront Iran.

Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.