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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.

Overall, more than eight in 10 Iraqis questioned said they have little or no confidence in the U.S. and British forces, while they were evenly divided about their own government: Forty-nine percent expressed confidence in the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; 51 percent did not. Forty-three percent said they approve of Maliki's job performance; 57 percent said they disapprove.

Assessments of the government in Baghdad reflect sectarian and ethnic differences. About three-quarters of Shiites and Kurds have confidence in the government, while just 8 percent of Sunnis feel that way. Similarly, two-thirds of Shiites and six in 10 Kurds approve of the prime minister's work, but only 3 percent of Sunnis do so.

Despite the overwhelming opposition to U.S. forces -- nearly eight in 10 oppose the presence of coalition soldiers -- about half of Iraqis polled said they think the U.S.-led invasion was the right thing to do. Forty-eight percent in the current survey said the invasion was right and 52 percent said it was wrong. In 2005, those numbers were 46 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Asked about countries in the region, a majority of Iraqis polled said Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria were "actively engaged in encouraging sectarian violence within Iraq." Seventy-one percent said Iran was involved in such activity; 66 percent said the same of Syria and 56 percent said so of Saudi Arabia.

A majority -- 58 percent -- said that Iraq should remain unified with a central government in Baghdad, but the percentage had slipped from 70 percent in 2005 and 79 percent in 2004. Asked whether Iraq will emerge with such a system, regardless of their own preferences, only 43 percent of those surveyed said they thought it would.

The poll also indicated that the country's challenges are affecting increasing numbers of Iraqis on an individual level. Nearly half said security was the biggest problem they faced, up from 18 percent in 2005 and 25 percent in 2004. Eighty percent said incidents of violence -- from car bombings to kidnappings to unnecessary violence by security forces -- had occurred near their homes.

Fifty-three percent said a family member or friend had been physically harmed by violence in the country, and 86 percent said they worried that a member of their household would become a victim of violence.

Eighty-four percent of Baghdad residents in the survey said they do not feel safe at all in their neighborhood; only 7 percent said so in 2005.

The vast majority of respondents -- 88 percent -- rated the supply of electricity as quite bad or very bad, up from 54 percent in 2005. In the earlier survey, 74 percent of Iraqis said the electricity situation would improve in a year's time; the proportion of those expressing such optimism dropped to 28 percent in the current poll.

The survey results indicated that the availability of jobs, clean water, medical care, education and other basic needs and services also had deteriorated since the period immediately following the invasion.

Interviews for the ABC News poll were conducted in person by Iraqi interviewers between Feb. 25 and March 5 among a random sample of 2,212 adults in all 18 provinces. Overall, the results have a 2.5 percentage-point margin of sampling error. The poll was conducted by D3 Systems of Vienna, Va., and KA Research Ltd. of Istanbul.

The ORB poll included in-person interviews with 5,019 Iraqi adults and was conducted Feb. 10-22. That poll has a margin of sampling error of at least 1.4 percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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