Security Gains Reverse Iraq's Spiral
Though Serious Problems Remain

Indeed, on a basic level, the presence of foreign forces remains unwelcome: Just 26 percent of Iraqis support having U.S. and coalition troops in their country, up a scant 5 points. But this doesn't mean most favor immediate withdrawal. Well under half, 38 percent, say the United States should leave now, down from a peak 47 percent in August.

One reason is that Iraqis are divided on what might follow U.S. withdrawal; 46 percent think it would make security better, but the rest say it would make security worse or leave it as it is now. Those who think immediate withdrawal would improve security are twice as likely to support it.

Moreover, despite their antipathy, big majorities see a continued role for the United States. From two-thirds to 80 percent of Iraqis support future U.S. efforts conducting security operations against al Qaeda or foreign jihadis in Iraq; providing military training, weapons and reconstruction aid; and assisting in security vis-à-vis Iran and Turkey. The most popular of these is a U.S. role confronting al Qaeda.

Americans long have been conflicted about the war: Broadly unhappy with its costs in human and material terms alike, yet torn on how and when best to leave Iraq in a tenable condition. Iraqis, it turns out, are equally conflicted on these issues.

THE SURGE – On a national level, as noted, 36 percent of Iraqis say security has improved in the last six months; that's jumped from just 11 percent in August. Of them, 82 percent express at least some confidence improved security will continue, although fewer, about a third, are "very" confident of it.

At the same time, few give the United States direct credit for security gains. When those who see security as having improved are asked who deserves the most credit, Iraqi institutions lead the way – 26 percent cite the national government, 18 percent the police, 13 percent the army. Just 4 percent mention the United States or U.S. forces.

Direct ratings of the surge likely reflect the United States' general unpopularity. Iraqis by 53-36 percent say the surge has made security worse, not better, in the areas where it's occurred; that, however, has improved sharply, from 70-18 percent in August.

Similarly, Iraqis by 49-30 percent say the surge has made security worse in the rest of the country (it was 68-12 percent in August); by 43-21 percent say it's worsened conditions for political dialogue (70-10 percent in August); by 44-25 percent say it's worsened the ability of the Iraqi government to do its work (65-12 percent in August) and by 42-22 percent say it's worsened the pace of economic development (67-6 percent in August).

These, again, have to be viewed through the filter of general antipathy toward the United States. What's notable is the change in the number of Iraqis who say the surge has made any of these conditions worse – down by 17 to 27 points.

THE COUNCILS and THE SUNNIS – Moreover, an integral part of the surge strategy – the creation of U.S.-funded and -equipped "Awakening Councils" to provide local security – is generally popular. The councils are better-rated than the United States, local leaders, local militias and even the Iraqi government.

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