Fourth Installment of "Where Things Stand" in Iraq

The geographic division used in this report is perhaps least relevant here. While a slim majority nationwide (51 percent) approve of their local government, sectarian differences are obvious. Iraq's Shiites and Kurds -- two populations widely persecuted under Saddam Hussein -- are not surprisingly filled with hope and high expectations for the country's current and future political leaders. By large margins, Shiites and Kurds approve of the recently adopted constitution and are confident that the elections will bring positive change. They also give the young Iraqi government generally good marks. The contrast among Sunnis is stark: Only 27 percent approve of the constitution; 48 percent say they are confident regarding the elections; and only 12 percent believe the government has done a good job.

Few Iraqis say they believe the country is on a course for civil war. Yet these sectarian differences, and the disaffection of the Sunnis generally, would seem to present one of the greatest challenges facing Iraq.

9) OTHER

WOMEN'S ISSUES:

Our poll found considerable support for women's rights. Ninety-nine percent believe women can be doctors; 80 percent say they can serve in public office; and 78 percent say women should be allowed to "instruct men in their work!"

Al-Mahaba radio station -- Iraq's first independent woman's radio station – was launched in 2005.

Women's softball is a brand-new phenomenon -- we're not sure how widespread! -- since the Americans arrived.

Source: Ismael Khalil Ismael, founder and chairman of the Iraq Baseball Union

DRUG USE: Anecdotal reports of heavier use -- sparked by relaxed enforcement and the wish to escape the trauma of daily violence. n.b.: one gram of heroin cost $415 before the invasion; now it's only $20 to $25

INCREASE IN MARRIAGES: Weddings are on the rise since the fall of Saddam Hussein. This is likely due to a rise in government salaries and an end to compulsory military service, freeing more young men for marriage. It may also be reflective of newfound optimism.

Overall

There is no question that Iraq stands at a turning point. So many of the questions raised in this report could turn one way or another based on how next week's election proceeds -- less in terms of who wins and loses, but more in terms of whether it is conducted peacefully, and with the approval of a solid majority of the Iraqi people.

Clearly, there are signs of optimism within the report; equally clear, Iraqis are impatient with the American presence and eager to take the reins of their new nation. That sentiment -- expressed in one way or another by Sunni, Kurd and Shia alike -- could well result in more public pressure in the U.S. to bring American forces home, or at least draw the numbers down.

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