Poll Shows Dramatic Decline in How Iraqis View Lives, Future

By Cameron W. Barr and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More than six in 10 Iraqis now say that their lives are going badly -- double the percentage who said so in late 2005 -- and about half say that increasing U.S. forces in the country will make the security situation worse, according to a poll of more than 2,200 Iraqis conducted for ABC News and other media organizations.

The survey, released Monday, shows that Iraqis' assessments of the quality of their lives and the future of the country have plunged in comparison with similar polling done in November 2005 and February 2004.

Asked to compare their lives today with conditions before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the proportion of Iraqis who say things are better now has slipped below half for the first time. Forty-two percent say their lives have improved, down from 51 percent in 2005 and 56 percent in 2004. Thirty-six percent now say things in their lives are worse today, up from 29 percent in the 2005 poll, which was taken during a period of relative optimism ahead of parliamentary elections. Twenty-two percent say their lives are about the same.

The survey elicited sharply different responses along sectarian and ethnic lines. For example, most Shiites and Kurds said things have improved in their lives and for the country overall; less than 10 percent of Sunnis agreed. When he was president, Saddam Hussein repressed the country's Shiite majority and its Kurdish minority while granting favored status to members of his own Sunni sect.

Views about the quality of life and the country's future have deteriorated precipitously in Baghdad, where violence and sectarian strife have been concentrated in recent months. In November 2005, 27 percent of Baghdad residents polled said their lives were going badly; in the new survey, that percentage rose to 78.

Another poll of Iraqis released this past weekend by the British research firm Opinion Research Business found that 49 percent of more than 5,000 Iraqis interviewed said "things are better for us under the current system," compared with 26 percent who favored life "under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein." Sixteen percent favored neither.

The ORB poll found that 27 percent of Iraqis questioned said the country was in a state of civil war, with 22 percent saying the country was "close to a state of civil war."

In the more comprehensive ABC News poll, conducted in partnership with the German television network ARD, the BBC and USA Today, Iraqis were asked whether the country was involved in a civil war; 42 percent said it was. Of the 56 percent who said the country was not in a state of civil war, more than four in 10 said such a conflict was likely.

About half of the Iraqis in the ABC News poll -- 49 percent -- said that bringing more U.S. forces into Baghdad and volatile Anbar province would worsen security. Twenty-nine percent said it would improve the situation in those areas, and 22 percent said the troop increase would have no effect. President Bush has authorized the deployment of nearly 30,000 additional troops to Baghdad and Anbar to support a nearly five-week-old security plan.

Sixty-nine percent of the Iraqis surveyed said the presence of U.S. forces in the country makes the overall security situation worse, but just 35 percent said U.S. and other coalition forces should "leave now." Thirty-eight percent said the forces should stay until security is restored; 14 percent said the forces should remain until the Iraqi government is stronger; 11 percent said they should stay until Iraqi forces can operate on their own.

Fifty-one percent said they thought it was "acceptable" for "other people" to attack coalition forces. In the 2004 survey, 17 percent said such attacks were acceptable.

Despite U.S. efforts to promote the emergence of a free-standing Iraqi government and political system, 59 percent of the Iraqis polled said the U.S. government "controls things in our country," up from 24 percent in 2005. The percentage of those who said that the Iraqi government is in control dropped from 44 percent in 2005 to 34 percent in the current poll.

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