Dramatic Advances Sweep Iraq, Boosting Support for Democracy

One way to assess violence is with an index showing how many Iraqis report any of a list of violent occurrences in their area. In August 2007, 71 percent reported at least one such incident in the previous six months. Last February it was about the same, 68 percent. Today fewer, 54 percent, report at least one such incident in the last six months. (And this does not take into account the frequency with which these incidents occur – even more sharply down, per Iraqi and U.S. government reports.)

Iraqi living conditions, foreign relations and the shoe thrower

LIVING CONDITIONS – Beyond violence, some living conditions, even if improved, are far from ideal. Just 40 percent of Iraqis say they have good access to medical care – up just 9 points from its worst, and far below its peak, 62 percent in pre-strife 2005. Access to medical care is reported by 59 percent of Kurds and 46 percent of Shiites, but that plummets to 19 percent among Sunni Arabs.

The availability of jobs is a complaint across groups; only about a third of Iraqis, 34 percent, rate this positively, almost unchanged in the last year (with a 10-point gain among Shiites, but an 11-point drop among Kurds). In another measure, more than twice as many say the availability of jobs has worsened in the last six months as say it's improved, 35 percent vs. 14 percent.

On other basics, just 38 percent rate their access to clean water positively, up 13 points from its low but still far below its best, 58 percent, in 2005. Just 38 percent also say they have a good supply of electricity – but that's up, remarkably, from just 12 percent last year. The number of Iraqis who say they have no electricity whatsoever from power lines (as opposed to generators) has been cut in half since March 2007. While six in 10 still lack reliable power, there have been real gains.

The advance in positive ratings of electric supply has occurred very disproportionately among Shiites, notably in Basra, but also in the provinces of Babil and Dhi Qar.

But the single biggest advance is in the supply of fuel for cooking and driving: A year ago just 19 percent rated theirs positively; today that's stormed to 68 percent. Factors could include lower prices on the export market and a more concerted government effort in domestic fuel distribution.

Among other conditions, local schools are well-rated (65 percent say theirs are good), as is local government (dramatically improved, as per above) and the availability of basic household goods, steady after improving sharply last year. Security, crime protection and freedom of movement, as noted, are vastly better, leading the way to broader improvements. And despite the shortage of jobs, 60 percent nonetheless rate their economic situation positively, steady from last year and well up from 2007, albeit 10 points below its peak in 2005.

Results throughout this poll show strong relationships between security, development and positive public attitudes. Where security is rated better, so are current conditions and expectations, both personally and nationally. And an index of development (see table on page 14 of PDF) shows how basic attitudes improve sharply along with ratings of local conditions. Security is essential, but development no less so.

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