Where Things Stand in Iraq

Our issue-by-issue breakdown follows below -- but here are a few other highlights and headlines:

Quality of Life Problems

People in central Iraq now report more serious problems with their quality of life. The vast majority of Iraqis we surveyed in the center say unemployment, electricity supplies, and water quality are worse today than before the war.

Success Stories

The shining success involves the availability of goods -- huge majorities in all three regions report improvement in this area.

Another across-the-board winner is education -- both in terms of the quality of teaching, and new work done to rebuild schools.

We found several examples of a basic, commonsense rule: Show people some tangible progress (a rebuilt bridge, a new sewage system), and they will tell you life is getting better.

Perhaps the most remarkable finding is a positive one: Iraqis are hopeful and optimistic despite the profound difficulties they face in their daily lives. The surveys and the anecdotal interviews are filled with examples of people who told us, "We feel less safe," "We have less money," "We have less electricity," etc. -- and then closed by saying, "We believe our lives are getting better."

Optimists and pessimists alike seem to hold out hope for the elections. Nationwide, more than three-quarters of our respondents said (a) they plan to vote and (b) they believe in democracy. Jan. 30 is seen as a watershed -- even by those who say they intend to boycott the vote. One is certainly left with the impression that people will be less likely to tolerate problems after the election.

Optimism in the face of so many quality-of-life complaints is perhaps the most interesting finding in this report.

We checked our surveys against the most recent national poll conducted in Iraq and found similar sentiments. The International Republican Institute's November 2004 survey found a wave of specific complaints, and then asked a basic question: "Do you believe your life one year from today will be better or worse?" Sixty-six percent of Iraqis answered "better," and only 13 percent said worse.

This is consistent with the sentiments voiced by the 1,300 Iraqis we spoke to. Most said their lives were better today than before the war, and most thought they would be better still in a year's time.

Enthusiasm for the election appears overwhelming. In that same IRI poll, 83 percent said they intended to vote; in our survey more than three-quarters of the people we spoke to said they planned to go to the polls.

This enthusiasm represents a desire for change, the thrill of casting a meaningful ballot, and a conviction that sovereignty really will return to Iraqis once the votes have been cast.

Above all it is reflection of patriotism. Time and again we heard a simple yet profound comment, along the lines of this one, from an unemployed man in Al Muthene province: "My love of the country will push me to vote."

About the Survey -- and the IWPR

All the questions in the survey were framed with pre-invasion Iraq (i.e., before March 2003) as the baseline. And the region described as "center" corresponds roughly to Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle.

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