"We spent a lot of money because I was optimistic that the situation would improve. Now I regret that decision." - Mohammad Hassin, 38, Baghdad restaurant owner
"In our final exams in college, the phone of a female student rang with a Shiite religious song...The professor was a Sunni Kurd and a former Baathist, and he became very angry and started shouting at the girl, telling her what a bad song this is." - Ayman Ali, 23, Baghdad cigarette company employee
"It is hard to say this but years ago I was praying for the death of [former president] Saddam Hussein, but today I wish he could come back to life and was in power again, because at least in his time we used to have safe water, good sewage systems, had food to eat and our children never got diarrhea," - Sahira Saleh, 41 Sadr City resident
"I am very optimistic for the future of Iraq…[because] I know its people." - Nizar Hana, Erbil businessman
"We used to live as neighbors for centuries, and there were no problems between us at all. We have married their women, and they have married our women. We attended their parties and wakes, and they did the same. But after the bombings of Samarra, things collapsed between us." - Sattar Jabbar, 41, Shiite imam, al-Jalaika mosque, al-Hahama district north of Baghdad
This report is the product of three parallel efforts: reporting conducted in roughly two dozen cities and towns across Iraq, by ABC News Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy, producer Almin Karamehmedovic, the staff of the ABC bureau in Baghdad and reporters from USA Today and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); a nationwide poll -- one of the most comprehensive opinion surveys ever done in modern Iraq; and research culled by ABC News staffers.
It is the fifth such report since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Each one has differed somewhat in methodology while sharing a fundamental goal: to understand how Iraq and its people are faring, in comparison to the pre-invasion period. Are Iraqis better off today 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.
The conclusions this time are unambiguous, and disturbing. Iraqis report a collapse of basic services, a steep decline in quality-of-life indices, and -- perhaps most significant -- an erosion of hope and faith that the future will bring better times. As ABC News polling director Gary Langer writes of the poll itself, it "paints a devastating portrait of life in Iraq." In the last "Where Things Stand" report (December 2005), even Iraqis who reported great difficulties in their own circumstances told us their lives were going well (71 percent); they believed that post-invasion Iraq was better than Saddam Hussein's Iraq (51 percent) and that their future was bright (64 percent). Today that hope is gone. Only 39 percent say their lives are going well, just 42 percent say life is better than it was under Saddam Hussein, and only 35 percent see better days ahead.