Fifty-six percent of Iraqis express confidence in the councils, compared with 49 percent in the national government of Iraq, 47 percent in local leaders, 22 percent in local militias and 20 percent in U.S. forces. The councils attract confidence from 73 percent of Sunni Arabs – generally the most alienated Iraqis – as well as from 60 percent of Shiites.
These councils began in Sunni Anbar province, where confidence in them peaks, at 88 percent; there now are both Sunni- and Shiite-dominated versions. (They're viewed far more dimly by Kurds.)
While just 27 percent of Iraqis say the presence of U.S. forces is making security better overall, nearly twice as many, 51 percent, say the Awakening Councils are making security better. Just 16 percent say the councils are making security worse, vs. 61 percent who say that about U.S. forces. And Iraqis almost unanimously reject attacks on Awakening Council leaders; 94 percent call these unacceptable.
Sixty-four percent of Sunnis say the councils are making security better, vs. 49 percent of Shiites and 31 percent of Kurds. This, along with the councils' general cross-doctrinal popularity, makes them look like a potentially effective tool in reassuring Sunni suspicions of the U.S. and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad alike.
The challenge is what happens with these councils over time, with some analysts expressing concern they could be drawn into sectarian conflict. Fifty-nine percent of Iraqis – including equal numbers of Sunnis and Shiites alike – say the councils should be incorporated into the mainstream Iraqi security forces.
BAGHDAD/ANBAR – As noted, it's Baghdad and Anbar, focal points of the surge, where many of the changes have been greatest – but where conditions still lag in real terms. Ratings of local security have improved by 43 points in Baghdad (from nil in August) and by 32 points in Anbar (nil in March). They've advanced more slowly in the rest of the country, by 10 points since August, to 68 percent positive – still much higher than in Baghdad.
Positive ratings of the availability of local goods have jumped remarkably, from zero to 70 percent in Baghdad, and from 28 to 67 percent in Anbar, compared with a 10-point rise in the rest of the country. The availability of jobs is rated positively by 43 percentage points more in Anbar now than in August, and by 18 points more in Baghdad, compared with just 4 points more elsewhere.
Last August, in Anbar and Baghdad alike, no respondents felt they could live where they wanted without persecution; today 86 percent in Anbar, and 46 in percent in Baghdad, feel they can. It's been flat in the rest of the country, +2 points, to 34 percent.
Views that the United States was right to invade Iraq have gained 25 points in Baghdad, to 46 percent. But in Anbar, the Sunni heartland, this has not changed – no one there says the invasion was right, today as in the polls last August and March alike.
None in Anbar, either, express confidence in U.S. forces, or approve of the way they've done their work in Iraq. But there is this change: In August 76 percent in Anbar said U.S. forces should leave Iraq immediately. Today fewer than half as many, 34 percent, say so.