Dramatic Advances Sweep Iraq, Boosting Support for Democracy

Among the many other telling results in this poll: A majority of Iraqis, 57 percent, now say it's time for the millions who fled the country during the height of its violence to return to Iraq. A year ago fewer than half, 45 percent, held that view.

This survey, based on random, in-person interviews with 2,228 Iraqi adults across the country, is the sixth in Iraq since 2004 sponsored by ABC News and media partners. Together their tracking of Iraqis' attitudes over time tells a story of initial optimism, crushed hopes in waves of violence, nascent improvement and now a robust recovery. They mark a notably different path from Afghanistan, where ABC's fourth national poll in January found sharp declines in public attitudes, amidst broad strife and struggling development.

AND THE U.S. – For all the gains in Iraq, the toll of the invasion and ensuing years of violence continues to weigh heavily on Iraqis' views of the United States. Most, 56 percent, say it was wrong for the United States and its coalition allies to invade six years ago this week. Never in these polls has a majority of Iraqis supported the U.S.-led war.

Other views of the U.S. presence remain weak as well. Just 27 percent are confident in U.S. forces (albeit nearly double its low). Just 30 percent say U.S. and coalition forces have done a good job carrying out their responsibilities in Iraq. Still fewer, 18 percent, have a positive opinion of the United States overall. Barely over a third think the election of Barack Obama will help their country.

The improvements in Iraq have followed the surge of U.S. forces there in 2007 and the successful U.S.-led efforts to bring Sunni groups into security arrangements. But what that apparently has not done is to mitigate Iraqis' anger at the widespread violence that came before. In March 2007, one in six Iraqis said someone in their own household had been hurt or killed; more than half reported an immediate relative or close friend harmed.

Today, the transfer of power is a work in progress; 53 percent of Iraqis think the United States still "controls things in our country." Nonetheless 59 percent think Iraqi forces are ready now to take up security without U.S. and other coalition forces present, and most of the rest think they'll become ready in the next year or two.

Thus 81 percent either support the current timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2011 (35 percent) – or say it should be speeded up (a plurality, 46 percent).

Some doubts and sectarian divisions underlie these views. Confidence that Iraqi forces are now capable of taking up security soars among Shiite Arabs, whose leaders control most of the security apparatus. But from 75 percent among Shiites this confidence drops to 45 percent among Kurds (long protected by the United States) and 38 percent among Sunni Arabs (still fearful of Shiite domination).

Also, a substantial number of Iraqis, 42 percent, are concerned that security may in fact worsen after U.S. forces leave. But few are "very" concerned. Most Iraqis appear eager to move ahead under their own steam.

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