Fourth Installment of "Where Things Stand" in Iraq

Looser borders, the lifting of sanctions and more disposable income have made new products and foods available to more Iraqis since the war began. The 27 percent to 40 percent of Iraqis who remain unemployed have of course suffered in terms of their purchasing power. Even for the most basic foods, costs have doubled since the fall of Saddam.

And yet Iraqis as a whole are on something of a spending spree. Ownership is up by 10 percent for cars; up by 14 percent for air conditioners; up by 18 percent for bicycles; and 62 percent of Iraqis now say they have mobile phones. (Less than two years ago the figure was 6 percent.) Bananas and soft drinks, American spaghetti sauce and European cheeses -- all items that were extremely difficult to come by during Saddam's regime due to sanctions and government mismanagement -- are widely available today.

According to an Iraqi customs official at the Iran-Iraq border crossing of Zurbatia, more than $80 million worth of non-oil goods passed through his checkpoint in 2004. Overall, during the first 10 months of 2005, nearly $650 million worth of goods was exported from Iran to Iraq; Iran's Commerce Ministry estimates that figure could top $1 billion in the next year, thanks to the sale of goods ranging from fruits and vegetables to electrical appliances and building materials.

A final note: housing prices in Baghdad have nearly quadrupled since the Saddam era. In the North, ABC's Jim Sciutto discovered a mini-boom in housing with units selling for as much as $200,000. Experts believe this rush for real estate was due initially to the anticipated return of Iraqi exiles once Saddam was deposed. Elections in January 2005 and the new interim government, however, seem to have increased prices further.

8) LOCAL GOVERNMENT

North: Better

Central: Worse

South: Better

It is worth noting that when we last published this report, 11 months ago, there had been no elections in Iraq, and no constitutional referendum. Iraqis and the outside world were girding for the possibility of widespread and disruptive violence at the polls.

Today, faith in the electoral process runs high (with the exception of the disaffected Sunnis) and confidence in public institutions has risen. This is particularly true for the Iraqi Army -- up from 39 percent to 67 percent, and the police -- up from 45 percent to 69 percent. A smaller majority say they are confident in their local and national leaders -- but as we said at the outset, seven in 10 Iraqis believe the Dec. 15 elections will improve their lot. Another interesting development: basic interest in politics has soared. The percentage of Iraqis reporting such an interest has gone from 39 (November 2003) to 69 today. Asked what sort of government they wish for, 57 percent of Iraqis told us they would prefer a democratic state; 26 percent answered "strong leader"; only 14 percent expressed a preference for an Islamic state.

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