Fourth Installment of "Where Things Stand" in Iraq

This is the fourth installment of "Where Things Stand" -- ABC News' effort to take stock of how life has changed for Iraqis since March 2003 when U.S. troops invaded Iraq. We believe this to be the first reliable national poll conducted in Iraq since June 2004.

What We Have Done

As in past years we are trying to help our audience -- and ourselves -- to understand whether Iraq and its people are in better or worse shape than they were prior to the U.S.-led invasion. At a time when "progress in Iraq" has become such an integral part of the political debate in this country (a not always well-informed debate), taking such measurements seems particularly important. Are Iraqis better off now than before the war? Have their lives improved in tangible, quantifiable ways? Are they optimistic about the future? Such questions are what this project is all about.

This is the fourth installment of "Where Things Stand." This time we faced a number of challenges and almost abandoned the project altogether -- because so much of Iraq continues to be a no-go area for our reporters. In the end, we managed to canvass the country in different ways.

ABC News, in partnership with Time magazine, the BBC, Japanese news service NHK and Germany's Der Spiegel newspaper, sponsored a rare and exclusive nationwide poll in Iraq. Conducted by Oxford Research International, the poll of 1,711 Iraqis represents a true nationwide survey of Iraqi opinion. We asked Iraqis about electricity supplies and local security, about the United States, the Iraqi constitution, the upcoming elections, and much more. Well-trained Iraqi fieldworkers interviewed people in 135 different locations around the country. Using the ABC News poll conducted in 2004, we were able to track how opinions have changed over the last 18 months.

We also partnered with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, an organization that trains local journalists in conflict zones (more about the IWPR below). We interviewed and vetted 12 of their reporters, provided them with digital video cameras, and dispatched them -- in six teams of two -- to points across the north, south and central parts of the country. These teams, together with ABC News correspondents and other Iraqi stringers, visited nearly all of Iraq's main regions and cities, collecting stories and videotape wherever they went. They traveled more than 3,000 miles, through a dozen provinces, and interviewed more than 1,000 Iraqis throughout the country.

The poll and the IWPR teams are complemented by a research effort conducted here in New York -- combining interviews with experts, conversations with groups working on reconstruction in Iraq, and assessments of other surveys and research done in Iraq over the past year. On the eve of Iraq's Dec. 15 election for 230 seats in the National Assembly, this reporting offers a broad sense of how Iraqis around the country feel about their lives, about the future and about the vote itself.

What We Found

This latest report is filled with surprises -- and some fascinating paradoxes.

Iraqis are far more optimistic about their individual circumstances than when we last asked these questions; seven in 10 now say their lives are going well, and two in three believe things will improve in the coming year.

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