A large majority of Iraqis say they have confidence in the new interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi that is set to assume political power on Wednesday, according to a poll commissioned by U.S. officials in Iraq.

The results are a significant victory for the United States and the United Nations. Together they negotiated with squabbling Iraqi factions in an attempt to cobble together a viable government that balanced disparate ethnic and religious groups.

The first survey since the new government was announced by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about three weeks ago showed that 68 percent of Iraqis have confidence in their new leaders. The numbers are in stark contrast to widespread disillusionment with the previous Iraqi Governing Council, which was made up of 25 members picked by the United States and which served as the Iraqi partner to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. Only 28 percent of Iraqis backed the council when it was dissolved last month, according to a similar poll in May.

The previous survey, by the same independent professional polling organization, also showed widespread anger at, or disapproval of, the U.S.-led coalition that has ruled Iraq since the ouster of President Saddam Hussein. The current poll is considered a welcome sign that the new government has not been tainted by association with the United States and may have at least a honeymoon period to prove itself, U.S. officials said.

There had been particular concern in Baghdad and Washington that Allawi's many years in exile before Hussein was ousted and his long-standing association with the CIA would undermine his credibility.

But 73 percent of Iraqis polled approved of Allawi to lead the new government, 84 percent approved of President Ghazi Yawar and almost two-thirds backed the new Cabinet. These impressive showings indicate that the new leaders have support spanning ethnic and religious groups, U.S. officials said.

"What comes across in the poll and what we've sensed for a while is that Iraqis remain open-minded about the new government," a senior coalition official in Baghdad said in an interview.

Four out of every five Iraqis expected that the new government will "make things better" for Iraq after the handover, with 10 percent expecting the situation to remain the same and 7 percent anticipating a decline, the poll shows.

U.S. officials are particularly encouraged because the poll showed high name recognition for the new leadership, in contrast with many members of the former council, U.S. officials said. More than 70 percent of Iraqis polled have heard or read a significant amount about the new leaders, who were named about three weeks ago.

"That's huge penetration -- and it happened quickly," said the coalition official, who asked for anonymity because of the rules on naming officials in Baghdad. "It's partly because Allawi is on all the Arab media every day talking about security. He's visiting sites, and there are constantly images of the prime minister tackling security, which is what Iraqis care most about right now. It resonates, and it comes across in these figures."

In a sign that Iraqis are more optimistic generally about their future after the occupation ends, two-thirds of Iraqis believed the first democratic elections for a new national assembly -- tentatively set for December or January -- will be free and fair, the survey shows.

Despite the growing number of attacks on Iraqi security forces, including several yesterday, public confidence in the new police and army has reached new highs, the poll shows. Seventy percent of Iraqis polled supported the new army, and 82 percent supported the police.

The poll was based on more than 1,000 face-to-face interviews conducted June 9-19 in six major cities that reflect the diverse communities -- Baghdad, Basrah, Mosul, Diwaniyah, Hilla and Baqubah. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The survey was conducted by an independent group that is not identified by U.S. officials for security reason. The poll was paid for by the Coalition Provisional Authority to get a sense of Iraqi attitudes, U.S. officials said.

President Ayad Allawi had approval rating of 73 percent.