This survey, based on face-to-face interviews of 2,212 randomly selected Iraqis across the country Aug. 17-24, follows a similar poll in Iraq by ABC, the BBC and other partners last Feb. 25-March 5. Together the two surveys bracket the surge, providing an independent assessment of changes in local conditions and attitudes.
The Bush administration, with input from the U.S. military and its commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, reports this week on its own assessment of conditions in Iraq and the effect of the surge of approximately 30,000 additional U.S. troops there.
Iraqis' own views can differ from military evaluations of the surge for good reason. Public attitudes are not based on a narrow accounting of more or fewer bombings and murders, but on the bigger picture -- which for most in Iraq means continued violence, poor services, economic deprivation, inadequate reconstruction, political gridlock and other complaints. For instance, the reported drop in Baghdad from 896 violent deaths in July to 656 in August may simply have been insufficient to boost morale -- particularly when violent deaths nationally were up by 20 percent, largely on the basis of bombings that killed an estimated 500 in two villages near the Syrian border on Aug. 14.
Indeed just a quarter of Iraqis in this poll say they feel "very safe" in their own neighborhoods, unchanged from six months ago. (And none reports feeling "very safe" in Baghdad or Anbar province.) Reports of car bombings and suicide attacks are more widespread; 42 percent now say these have happened nearby, up 10 points.
With both continued violence and no improvements in living conditions, frustration with Iraq's own government has grown as well. Despite billions spent, only 23 percent of Iraqis report effective reconstruction efforts in their local area. And about two-thirds disapprove of the work of both the current government overall (up by 12 points since winter), and of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally.
The ABC/BBC/NHK poll, consisting of interviews that averaged nearly a half-hour in length, covered a wide range of attitudes and perceptions -- personal experiences, views of the nation's prospects, ratings of security and the surge, politics and reconstruction, the performance of the United States, the level of local violence, ethnic cleansing and more.
In perhaps the most bottom-line measure of a country's well-being, 61 percent of Iraqis say their lives are going badly, unchanged from last winter and double what it was in late 2005. Among Sunni Arabs, the country's elites under Saddam Hussein, this soars to 88 percent, while among Kurds in the semi-autonomous north it's jumped from one-third to half in the last six months alone.
The change over the long term is striking: In November 2005, 71 percent of Iraqis said their own lives were going well, compared with 39 percent in the last two polls.
The future looks equally bleak: Only 29 percent of Iraqis expect their own lives to get better in the next year, down six points from last winter, including a 17-point drop among Kurds. And just a third of Iraqis now think their children will have a better life than they do, down nine points from six months ago. Hopes for the next generation have fallen by 11 points among Shiites -- and by 24 points among increasingly negative Kurds.