But for the most part, this is an unmistakably distressing portrait of a nation. Only 16 months ago, when we last conducted these surveys, we reported that Iraq stood at a turning point, with "ample reasons for optimism" and a profound faith in the future. Today that faith and optimism seem distant indeed. The question of course is whether a "turning point" has come and gone.
This year's poll was conducted for ABC News, USA Today, the BBC and ARD German Television between Feb. 25 and March 5, 2007. Interviews were conducted with a random national sample of 2,212 Iraqi adults in every one of the country's eighteen provinces, including so-called "oversamples" in Anbar province, Basra city, Kirkuk and the Sadr City section of Baghdad. The results have a 2.5-point error margin.
ABC's Terry McCarthy and other ABC News producers and reporters visited 18 cities and towns across the country. These trips were complemented by reporting conducted for the project by USA Today and the BBC. In many cases ABC News went back to see people we had come to know during earlier versions of the report -- the police chief in Kirkuk, doctors at Nasariyah Hospital, a Baquba engineer and a Basra hotel manager. At every step, we were interested to learn how lives had been changed, for better or worse, since the Americans came to Iraq.
Using official reports from nongovernmental organizations and U.S. and Iraqi government agencies, as well as original reporting from both ABC News and USA Today, we have compiled statistics about life in Iraq. For each of the criteria below, we attempt to answer a simple question: Has it gotten better, worse or remained the same as compared to early 2004, when we first polled Iraqis nationwide. For the sake of these measurements, we have broken the country down into three geographic areas -- north, south and center. This breakdown is imperfect, of course; each region has significant divisions within it. The north, for example, includes both Kurdistan, which is faring comparatively well, and the non-Kurdish north, which is not. These "grades" are based on our poll, our reporting and our research.
North: same or worse Central: worse South: same or worse
Security -- or the absence thereof -- has been the overriding concern for Iraqis since the invasion. Forty-eight percent cite security issues as the greatest problem in their lives, far more than said so in either 2004 or 2005. And it has been the case since we began these surveys that security troubles have damaged nearly every aspect of Iraqi life. Beyond the casualties themselves, the lack of security has kept children from schools, kept oil production below targets, shuttered businesses and stalled reconstruction projects. It has driven not only an enormous number (2 million, at last count) of people from the country, but also a broad range of people. According to a December 2006 U.N. report, "Various professional groups, including educators, medical professionals, journalists, judges and lawyers, religious and political leaders" have been targeted in the sectarian violence and forced to leave their homes.
The last time we polled Iraqis -- little more than one year ago -- 63 percent told us they felt "very safe" in their neighborhoods; now that figure has plummeted to 26 percent. Today three quarters of Iraqis say they lack the freedom to move about safely, or to live where they wish without persecution.