Dramatic advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq, with declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services lifting optimism, fueling confidence in public institutions and bolstering support for democracy.
The gains in the latest ABC News/BBC/NHK poll represent a stunning reversal of the spiral of despair caused by Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. The sweeping rebound, extending initial improvements first seen a year ago, marks no less than the opportunity for a new future for Iraq and its people.
While deep difficulties remain, the advances are remarkable. Eighty-four percent of Iraqis now rate security in their own area positively, nearly double its August 2007 level. Seventy-eight percent say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely – triple what it's been.
Few credit the United States, still widely unpopular given the post-invasion violence, and eight in 10 favor its withdrawal on schedule by 2011 – or sooner. But at the same time a new high, 64 percent of Iraqis, now call democracy their preferred form of government.
Remaining challenges are serious. Many views have not recovered to their pre-2006 levels. Violence continues, even if much abated. Basic services such as medical care and clean water, though better, are still in short supply. Even with their confidence vastly improved, Sunni Arabs remain far more vulnerable personally and skeptical politically. Sunni/Shiite segregation has increased sharply. Kurdish-Arab relations are tense. And issues from corruption to suspected vote fraud and political gridlock cloud the horizon.
Still, the number of Iraqis who call security the single biggest problem in their own lives has dropped from 48 percent in March 2007 to 20 percent now. Two years ago 56 percent called it the single biggest problem for the country as a whole; that's down to 35 percent now, including a 15-point drop in the last year alone. Fifty-nine percent now feel "very" safe in their communities, up 22 points from last year and more than double its lowest. Recent local fighting among sectarian forces is reported by 6 percent, compared with 22 percent a year ago.
Optimism and confidence have followed. Sixty-five percent of Iraqis say things are going well in their own lives, up from 39 percent in 2007 (albeit still a bit below its 2005 peak). Fifty-eight percent say things are going well for Iraq – a new high, up from only 22 percent in 2007. Expectations for the year ahead, at the national and personal levels, also have soared, after crashing in 2007. And the sharpest advances have come among Sunni Arabs, the favored group under Saddam Hussein, deeply alienated by his overthrow, now re-engaging in Iraq's national life.
Confidence in the national government, local governments, the army and police all are at new highs. And the growth in support for democracy, bolstered by successful provincial elections in January, is critical – a 21-point gain from March 2007 to a new high in polls since 2004. As Sunni Arabs have stepped back from their preference for strongman rule, so have many Shiites dropped their preference for an Islamic state.