Iraq: Notes From the Field

There were checkpoints, police stops and at least one shootout. But compared to last year's experience polling there, Iraq has quieted down considerably.

That's the message from interviewers who conducted the latest national poll in Iraq for ABC News, the BBC, ARD German TV and NHK. Field notes accompanying previous polls, particularly last March, described bombings, armed assaults and heavy fighting. The latest noted far less violence, and more concerns with the necessities of daily life.

"There are no services in the town, no electricity. The people of the town were saying that the government forgets about them for a long time," reported one interviewer in Irbil province. "The road of the town to the city was so bad, it is very hard to reach the city. People of the town were saying if this situation continues, they will abandon the town and move to other cities."

In neighboring Ninevah, "We noticed that people were very reactive when we ask questions about the government and services. Some respondents were very angry about not getting services, even one of them left the room," another interviewer said. "We encountered armed militias walking openly in residential areas which made us nervous, but we were able to do our jobs and leave without incident."

There was some trouble. At a village in southern Basra province, "fighting started between some armed men and Iraqi police," an interviewer reported. "We needed to stop our random walk, waited for a few hours, but then it passed and we could continue." Also in Basra, a supervisor said, "There was intense fighting in some districts… between insurgents and Iraqi army, which made it very hard to complete questionnaires."

Checkpoints were the most common impediment. In Karbala, "We were stopped frequently by Iraqi police and Iraqi army checking all vehicles. We encountered lots of checkpoints, more than usual." In Ninevah, "We encountered many Iraqi police checkpoints that I had not seen before." In Salahuddin, "The roads... were closed most of the time by Al-Sahawa (Awakening Council) forces in all areas."

"We struggled to reach our designated sampling points," this interviewer said. "Especially in Samarra city, there were lots of Iraqi police and security forces spread everywhere. There were many checkpoints, searching every car going in and out."

Trained interviewers, all Iraqi citizens, were sent to a total of 461 randomly selected starting points across the country. From each they followed a random route procedure to select households, then randomly selected individuals within households to participate in the survey. Just five interviews were conducted from each sampling point, allowing for very broad geographical coverage of the country.

There were some causes for alarm. In Irbil, "While we were applying random household selection rules, someone called police. They took us to the police station and wanted us to explain our work." It ended well: "The officer in the station accepted our explanations and papers."

In central Babil, a supervisor related, "We did not experience any problems in field work. Only Iraqi army suddenly blocked the road while we were driving back to our office. We stayed there 'til night time, our families were worried and sent us a lot of text messages, but the situation passed safely."

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