Dramatic Advances Sweep Iraq, Boosting Support for Democracy

COMMERCE, CONFIDENCE and CONCILIATION – For Iraq itself, where security has led, other conditions have improved. Sixty percent of Iraqis now rate their personal finances positively, up from a low of 36 percent in March 2007; six in 10 can obtain basic household goods, steady from last year and well up from the dark days of 2007. While jobs, medical care and clean water remain problematic, the availability of electricity – a perennial problem – and, especially, of fuel supplies, has soared.

Iraqi elections, ethnic relations and Sunni improvements

Critically, given past violence, Sunni-Shiite tensions have eased. Sixty-seven percent say the participation of Sunnis in the Jan. 31 provincial elections was a positive factor (most Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds alike say so). Nearly six in 10 rate relations between Sunnis and Shiites positively, up from 48 percent a year ago. And 79 percent expect reconciliation and cooperation between them in the future.

There is, however, greater separation between these groups, raising the question of the true level of rapprochement. Last year 27 percent of Iraqis lived in completely Shiite neighborhoods, 27 percent in completely Sunni neighborhoods; now it's 36 percent apiece – more than seven in 10 now living apart. And nearly six in 10 Iraqis say they only have friends of the same doctrine as their own, up 8 points. The meaning of that increased separation is a profound one for Iraq's future.

There are tensions in Kurdish-Arab relations, too. Just 44 percent of Iraqis rate these relations positively, dropping to 22 percent of Sunnis. A tepid 53 percent of Iraqis expect reconciliation between Kurds and Arabs, and 59 percent expect the Kurdish provinces to try formally to separate from Iraq – something nearly nine in 10 non-Kurds oppose, two-thirds of them, "strongly."

Nonetheless, along with personal and national optimism, trust in national institutions has jumped. As noted, confidence in the Iraqi army and police are at new highs, 73 and 74 percent respectively, including majorities of Sunni Arabs for the first time (as well as most Kurds and Shiites alike). Sixty-seven percent of Iraqis think the country's security forces are loyal to the nation, not to individual factions; Shiites especially say so, but more than half of Sunni Arabs and Kurds agree.

While views on the fairness of the provincial elections in January are mixed, with sharp sectarian differences, they do seem to have helped boost confidence. The number of Iraqis who rate their local government positively – 39 percent in August 2007 – has jumped to 59 percent now, a new high. That's up 16 points among Shiites, to 63 percent. But most notable is the gain among Sunnis, who participated in these elections after previous boycotts. In March 2007 just 9 percent of Sunnis rated their local government positively. Last year it was 23 percent. Today, 51 percent.

Confidence in the national government likewise is at a new high, 61 percent, up 22 points from its August 2007 low. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has a 55 percent approval rating, up 15 points from last year – including a 23-point gain among Sunnis, albeit again from a very low base; in the past they've been almost unanimously critical of the Shiite-dominated Maliki government.

In a less positive sign for Maliki, four in 10 Iraqis – across sectarian lines – think he's concentrating too much power in his office; even 42 percent of Shiites say so.

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