2005 Poll: Broad Optimism in Iraq, But Also Deep Divisions Among Groups

There's other evidence of the United States' increasing unpopularity: Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.

Specifically, 26 percent of Iraqis say U.S. and other coalition forces should "leave now" and another 19 percent say they should go after the government chosen in this week's election takes office; that adds to 45 percent. Roughly the other half says coalition forces should remain until security is restored (31 percent), until Iraqi security forces can operate independently (16 percent), or longer (5 percent).

This survey was sponsored by ABC News with partners Time, the BBC, the Japanese network NHK and the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, with fieldwork by Oxford Research International. It consists of in-person interviews with a random national sample of 1,711 Iraqis from early October through mid-November.

There were limitations on questions in the survey because of security concerns; given the sectarian violence, Iraqis were not asked their religious doctrine, Sunni or Shiite. Instead this analysis looks at Sunni-dominated, Shia-dominated, mixed and Kurdish regions, using previous data to categorize provinces.

Sunni and Shiite

Sunni Arabs, the favored group under Saddam Hussein, lost their status with his overthrow and clearly resent it. In contrast Shiites, the larger group, are embracing their newfound political clout despite the terrorism that largely has targeted them. Kurds in the North (who are Sunnis, but attitudinally far different from Sunni Arabs), the strongest supporters of the United States by far, are the most positive Iraqi group, by dint of the greater autonomy they've long sought.

People in mixed areas of the country, notably the population center, Baghdad, tend to view conditions much more favorably than those in Sunni Arab areas, and generally more in line with views in the mainly Shiite South.

Majorities in Shiite and Sunni Arab areas do share some views, such as discontent with the presence of U.S. forces and -- perhaps crucially for Iraq's future -- a desire to keep the country unified. But the degree differs sharply -- for example, 88 percent of those in Sunni areas want a unified Iraq, compared with 56 percent in Shiite provinces. And on other matters, including fundamental political issues, Sunni/Shiite area views more directly conflict.

Confidence in this week's elections is far lower in Sunni Arab areas -- 48 percent, compared with more than 80 percent in other groups -- but, given Sunnis' broad disaffection, that could be worse. More threatening is that just 27 percent in Sunni areas approve of the constitution, compared to more than eight in 10 Iraqis in the rest of the country, Shiite, Kurdish and mixed areas alike.

Such gaps between these groups seem to represent Iraq's greatest challenge. On issue after issue, from personal satisfaction to security to political views, people in Sunni areas -- about one in four Iraqis -- express vastly more negative views than their Shiite- or Kurdish-area counterparts.

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