Dramatic Advances Sweep Iraq, Boosting Support for Democracy

Still, assessing the loyalty of security forces overall, Sunnis and Kurds alike are more apt than Shiites to express some skepticism. Seventy-nine percent of Shiites think these forces are loyal to the country as a whole rather than to individual factions; far fewer Sunnis and Kurds, 54 percent, share that view. Among those who do see factional loyalties, the one most often mentioned is the Shiite-led Badr organization and its leaders.

Shiites account for 51 percent of Iraq's population in this poll, Sunni Arabs 29 percent, Kurds 16 percent – essentially steady across the four latest ABC News-sponsored polls in Iraq. See separate methodology statement for details.

Democracy in Iraq, independence for Kurdistan and violence

GOVERNANCE – Basic views on governance also mark the sea change in Sunni views: In March 2007 58 percent of Sunnis said the country needed a "strong leader – a government headed by one man for life" (presumably a throwback to their one-time protector, Saddam), while just 38 percent preferred a democracy. Today that's more than flipped: Sixty-five percent of Sunnis want a democracy; just 20 percent, a strong leader.

Critically, there's been a complementary change among Shiites – in their case a drop in preference for an Islamic state from 40 percent in 2007 to 26 percent now, and a concomitant 21-point rise in favor of democracy. Kurds, for their part, have been and remain broadly pro-democracy.

Sunni support for democracy, though, is tentative. Nearly seven in 10 Kurds and nearly eight in 10 Shiites say they're "confident" that a system of freely electing leaders can work successfully in Iraq; many fewer Sunnis, 45 percent, are ready to say so.

Some concerns over governance reflect frustration with the current legislative system. Iraqis divide about evenly on whether members of the Council of Representatives in Baghdad are willing to make necessary compromises on sharing the country's oil wealth and promoting reconciliation, with Sunnis especially skeptical. And more Iraqis, 61 percent overall, don't see progress on official corruption.

Iraqis as a whole are more apt to say the provincial elections last month increased rather than decreased their confidence that democracy can work in Iraq, 43 percent vs. 18 percent. But that's a far more robust result among Shiites (54 vs. 12 percent) than among either Sunnis (36 vs. 20 percent), or, especially, Kurds (26 vs. 32 percent).

Indeed, there's skepticism among non-Shiites that the elections in fact were free and fair, with an honest vote count. While 62 percent of Shiites think so, that dives to 32 percent of Kurds and 30 percent of Sunnis. Iraq's democracy remains a fragile thing.

KURDS – For Kurds, pinned as ever in a difficult geopolitical situation, there are some hotspots. One focus is oil-rich Kirkuk, center of a dispute on whether it should or should not become part of the Kurdish Autonomous Region. Nearly all Kurds (93 percent) say yes; nearly all Sunni and Shiite Arabs say no.

That dispute boils into the broader issue of whether the Kurdish areas are receiving (or should receive) a fair share of Iraq's oil revenue. Kurds have grown more sour on the subject: A year ago 60 percent thought the Iraqi legislature was willing to make compromises on oil wealth; today many fewer Kurds, 44 percent, still think so. It's this kind of view that's contributed to the 17-point drop in approval for Maliki among Kurds.

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