Dramatic Advances Sweep Iraq, Boosting Support for Democracy

However, more fundamentally, 70 percent of Iraqis support a unified Iraq with its central government in Baghdad, up 12 points from its low in March 2007. Kurds, though, are more apt to favor either a regional federation or outright separation.

SUNNIS: A SEA CHANGE – Differences on Maliki are instructive in terms of the fault lines in Iraqi politics. He now enjoys a 70 percent approval rating among Shiites, up 18 points from last year. His approval from Kurds, 51 percent, is down by 17 points – indicating the rising wariness in that group, in part over oil wealth. And while Maliki's approval from Sunnis is way up, that's just to 31 percent, from a mere 8 percent last year.

In another measure, 73 percent of Shiites and 63 percent of Kurds are confident in the national government; among Sunni Arabs this drops to 39 percent. But that's up among Sunnis from just 10 percent a year ago and 4 percent in August 2007.

Personal views add to the story. There's been an astonishing advance in the number of Shiites who feel "very safe" in their own community – from 38 percent a year ago to 67 percent now. Among Kurds, whose three northern provinces escaped most of the country's recent violence, feelings of safety have been high and are now even higher, 85 percent. Sunni Arabs are another story: Even today just 33 percent feel very safe. But that's up from 13 percent last year and a mere 3 percent in March 2007.

Other metrics are similar. Seven in 10 Shiites and Kurds alike say things are going well in their own lives; that drops to 49 percent of Sunnis – far lower, but at the same time up from a dismal 7 percent in 2007. And among Iraqis who report security gains in the last six months, Sunnis are far less likely than Shiites or Kurds to be confident they'll continue in the future.

Sunnis also are much less likely than Shiites to say they have access to medical care, clean water or electricity; they're 21 points less apt than Shiites to say the national government is providing services in their area (41 percent vs. 62 percent) – elements that could encourage resentment in the future.

In a result related to Sunni/Shiite separation, just 43 percent of Iraqis feel free to live where they want without persecution. But that is up from a low of 23 percent in 2007, especially among Sunnis. In August 2007 a mere 2 percent of Sunnis felt they could live where they chose without persecution; a year ago, 19 percent; today, 31 percent.

Indeed advances in confidence among Sunnis are some of the most striking changes in this poll – including a 30-point gain just since last year in the number of Sunnis who say things are going well for the country as a whole, and likewise a 29-point advance in expectations among Sunnis that things will get better for Iraq in the year ahead.

Equally remarkable is the rise in confidence among Sunnis in the Iraqi army – up from a low of 25 percent in March 2007 to 55 percent today – and even more so, in the Iraqi police. In March 2007 just 24 percent of Sunnis were confident in the police; by last year, 40 percent – and today, 67 percent, a key change reflecting greater Sunni participation in these forces.

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