Poll Highlights Disconnect Between U.S. Commanders, Iraqis

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By Megan Greenwell and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 10, 2007; 1:38 PM

BAGHDAD, Sept. 10 -- Seven in 10 Iraqis believe the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and Anbar province has made security worse in those areas and nearly half want coalition forces to leave immediately, according to a new poll conducted by ABC News, the BBC and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

In most areas, the poll reveals a basic disconnect between U.S. commanders' view of a steadily improving situation in Iraq and a bleaker outlook among Iraqis. As Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker testify before Congress about the results of the troop increase, poll numbers show that ordinary Iraqis are significantly more likely to say "things are going badly" than in the early days of the increased U.S. military presence in March.

Fewer than one-quarter of Iraqis report that things in Iraq are going well, down from 35 percent in a similar poll released in March, while the number of people who expect conditions to improve in the next year has declined precipitously.

In November 2005, shortly before Iraq's historic open elections, 69 percent of residents said they believed life would be better in a year. But in the poll this March, only 40 percent had a positive outlook; now, less than a quarter of Iraqis, 23 percent, expect the country to be better off a year from now.

More than six in 10 Iraqis now say the U.S.-led invasion in spring 2003 was a mistake. That negative assessment is 11 percentage points higher than it was in March. For the first time, more than half of Shiites, 51 percent, say it was wrong for coalition forces to invade Iraq, an event that toppled a power structure in which minority Sunnis dominated Shiites and Kurds.

Nearly half of all Iraqis now want coalition forces out of the country immediately, a 12-point increase from March, but there were sharp sectarian and ethnic divisions on this subject. Nearly three-quarters of Sunnis want the troops to leave now, as do 44 percent of Shiites. Only about one in 10 Kurds want an immediate withdrawal.

Nearly six in 10 Iraqis say attacks on coalition forces are "acceptable," up six percentage points from March, including a 15-point jump among Shiites, 50 percent of whom now call such actions acceptable.

At the same time, some attitudes toward foreign troops and the country's own security forces have become less negative since earlier this year. Nineteen percent of all Iraqis place primary blame for the violence in the country on U.S. and coalition forces, down from 31 percent in March. Public confidence in Iraq's army and police force has increased somewhat and the percentage of people who have a "great deal" or "a lot" of confidence in local militia groups has decreased.

Moreover, the troop increase appears to have had some benefit for Iraqis. Residents of Anbar province and Baghdad -- where most of the additional units are based -- are more likely than they were in March to rate local security positively.

But overall, the Iraqi assessment of the situation remains dire. All of the 13 quality-of-life measures tested in the poll are rated poorly, including overwhelmingly negative appraisals of energy supplies and the availability of jobs. Only one -- the rating of local schools -- has improved from March.

Only a quarter of Iraqis report feeling "very safe" in their own neighborhoods, unchanged from March, just after nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops started arriving. In Baghdad, where ratings of local conditions are particularly negative, none of those polled said they feel very safe, although fewer now feel "not safe at all" than in the March poll. Six in 10 believe that security is worse in Iraq than it was six months ago, and just 11 percent believe security has improved.

Iraqis blame their government, in part, for their troubles. While half now believe the parliament is willing to make necessary compromises to bring peace and security to the country, two-thirds of Iraqis disapprove of how the national government is performing. And Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's own approval rating sits at just 33 percent, mirroring President Bush's approval rating among the American public in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Ratings of the Iraqi government and the prime minister have both dropped since March.

During the past six months, disapproval of the Shiite-led government is up 15 percentage points among Shiites to 47 percent. Among Kurds, it is up 24 points to 53 percent.As in March, nearly all Sunnis polled thought the government was doing a bad job.

As for the structure of the Iraqi government, more than six in 10 Iraqis support a unified country, with the central government in Baghdad. But again, sectarian divisions are stark. While 97 percent of Sunnis and 56 percent of Shiites want a single, unified country, only 9 percent of Kurds favor that approach. Forty-nine percent of Kurds want to divide the country into separate, independent states and another 42 percent would like Iraq to be a group of states with a federal government in Baghdad.

The poll was based on face-to-face interviews between Aug. 17 and 24, among a random national sample of 2,212 Iraqi adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The fieldwork was conducted by D3 Systems of Vienna and KA Research Ltd. of Istanbul.

Cohen reported from Washington.


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