Fourth Installment of "Where Things Stand" in Iraq

Above all, we were struck -- as we have been in previous installments of this series -- by the stoicism and faith of the Iraqi people. Time and again, Iraqis listed their troubles and itemized their complaints only to finish with bold expressions of hope. We met a young man in a Baghdad park named Murtada Mohammed. After telling us how poor services were in his neighborhood, how hard it was to afford goods and then how often he feels fear in his daily life, he finished this way: "Tomorrow will be better -- I know it."

Our poll suggests that there are a great many Iraqis -- across the country, and from many walks of life -- who are like Murtada Mohammed.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting is an international media development charity, based in London and Washington. It aims to strengthen local journalism in crisis-ridden countries by training reporters to be independent journalists. It often collaborates with international and regional media to transfer skills and experience.

The 12 reporters who worked with ABC News volunteered for the project. ABC News paid them a salary and expenses during the reporting period.

The assessments below were derived from a combination of data -- the poll, the IWPR and other reporting, ABC News' own reporting, and the research gathered over the last several months.

Questions were framed with pre-invasion Iraq (i.e., before March 2003) as the baseline. The region described as "central" corresponds roughly to Baghdad and the so-called "Sunni Triangle."

Where Things Stand - Assessments

1) SECURITY

North: Better

Central: Worse

South: Better

Security remains far and away the primary concern for Iraqis; 57 percent say it's what matters most. (The next closest category -- "getting the U.S. out of Iraq" -- draws just 10 percent.) Anecdotally, we continue to hear nightmarish stories about the lack of security -- and important ways in which this problem permeated so many walks of life. And yet the overall numbers -- in the north and south in particular -- suggest that the situation has actually improved.

Sixty-one percent of Iraqis now say they feel security is better than it was before the war; that represents a 12 percent increase since we last asked, and a fairly startling counterweight to the prevalent view in the press. Having said that, these numbers are driven almost entirely by Shiites and Kurds who were treated so brutally under Saddam Hussein. By contrast, among Iraq's Sunnis -- for whom "security" was almost ironclad under Saddam -- a whopping 90 percent report their security is worse today. In 2005, the majority of insurgent attacks have been concentrated in four of Iraq's 18 provinces, which are home to roughly 45 percent of the country's population: Ninevah, Al Anbar, Baghdad and Salah ah Din. Attacks have focused primarily on members of the Iraqi Security Forces, members of the Multinational Forces, Iraqi civilians and government officials -- as well as foreign diplomatic and media personnel.

Iraqis who do not feel safe tell us they take a variety of measures to protect themselves. Sixty-seven percent say they avoid U.S. forces; one in two stays clear of checkpoints if possible; and 43 percent are careful about what they say in public. Again, these are figures for Iraqis who say they feel less safe than before.

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