Dramatic Advances Sweep Iraq, Boosting Support for Democracy

Part of the division may be inescapable; Kurds, brutally repressed under Saddam, never have fully embraced Iraqi nationalism. While 91 percent of Sunni Arabs and 74 percent of Shiites favor a unified Iraq with a central government in Baghdad, that plummets to 18 percent of Kurds. (It was even lower during the strife.) Kurds instead divide evenly between a federated system and outright independence, with 39 percent support for each.

That's actually a 13-point drop in preference for independence among Kurds themselves in just the past year, perhaps informed by their geopolitical situation (especially, hostility with Turkey to the north). But while 39 percent of Kurds prefer independence, more, 56 percent, think it's at least somewhat likely the Kurdish provinces will try to obtain it. And if it happened, 86 percent of Kurds say they'd support it.

It's a recipe for trouble if Iraq's Kurds did seek independence. But given their location between Turkey and Iran, that option may be unattractive anyway. Indeed, Kurds are in fact more apt than Iraqi Arabs to expect ultimate reconciliation – 70 percent of Kurds expect Kurdish-Arab rapprochement, vs. about half of Shiites and Sunnis.

Kurds, largely separated from the Sunni-Shiite conflicts to their south, long have enjoyed better security and thus better local development than other Iraqis. For the most part that remains so – but Kurds' ratings of local conditions have trended down in this poll, while others' are steady or improved. Most notably, for the first time more Shiites than Kurds rate their families' economic situation positively, 66 percent vs. 58 percent, with a 10-point drop among Kurds from last year.

There's also been a 13-point drop in Kurds' positive ratings of their local government, and 9- to 11-point declines in their ratings of the availability of jobs, clean water, medical care and the quality of local schools. As conditions to the south have improved, the Kurdish north, in contrast, has experienced a bit of a setback.

VIOLENCE – The shift in views of security is vast. In addition to its overall positive ratings, 52 percent of Iraqis say security has improved in the country as a whole in the past six months; far fewer, 36 percent, said so a year ago, and fewer still, just 11 percent, in August 2007, six months into the U.S. surge. Just 8 percent say security's worsened lately; in August 2007, 61 percent said so.

But a reduction in violence is not its elimination, and it continues at troubling levels, as demonstrated by back-to-back suicide bombings this month that killed 28 and 33, respectively, in Baghdad. Sixteen percent of Iraqis – one in six – report car bombs or suicide attacks in their area in the past six months; 17 percent, kidnappings for ransom; 12 percent, political assassinations.

Those rise in particular areas and among particular groups. Three in 10 Sunnis report car bombs; so do 31 percent in the mixed city of Baghdad, home to a fifth of Iraq's population, and 22 percent in Sunni Anbar province. Three in 10 Sunnis also report kidnappings for ransom in the last six months, and this rises to 47 percent in Mosul, a northern city where remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq rebased after losing Anbar. Indeed 51 percent in Mosul still cite security as their biggest personal problem, compared with 20 percent across Iraq as a whole.

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