The past seven and a half years in Iraq, from the U.S. invasion to the toppling of Saddam Hussein to the ethno-sectarian civil war to the now relative calm and U.S. withdrawal, have been very, very complicated. But the Associated Press thinks it's found a single lens through which we can understand the sweep of recent Iraqi history: Pornography. Specifically, the AP looks at the fluctuations in the Iraqi porn market as a means for understanding the changes in security and culture. It's actually a lot more compelling than it might sound.

The porn, in an odd way, has told the story of Iraq's security and political situation since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. It emerged in the anything-goes atmosphere that erupted in the vacuum immediately following the U.S. invasion — then went back into hiding amid the anarchy when armed militias roamed the capital through 2008, targeting those they saw as immoral.

Its reemergence since then reflects how security has improved but also how the fragile government is busy with more pressing issues than spicy videos.

The AP's theory is that the absence porn is bad because it indicates either authoritarian rule or dangerous extremist militias. But too much porn is also bad because it implies a Hobbesian state of chaos. But right now Iraq has some porn, which is good because it shows freedom and security. "Police, not having to grapple with daily bombings like in Baghdad, have more time to keep it off the streets."

In fact, does porn show that Iraq could be nearing George W. Bush's neoconservative dream of a "Middle Eastern beacon of democracy"? The AP notes, "The openness with which porn is sold in some of Baghdad's streets is almost unheard of in the Arab world."

But Iraq, which still endures periodic bombings that kill dozens of civilians, remains troubled. This too is reflected in the pornography. "In an ironic symbol of the difficulty with which Arabs have had coming together, [a DVD of pan-Arab porn] gets stuck in a loop in the first five minutes." Comments veteran Crispin Burke, "War is hell."