In his visit today to Iraq President Obama will find a place where conditions have improved dramatically and public attitudes have followed, per our ABC/BBC/NHK poll there – but where the United States gets little credit, and relatively few expect Obama to make much difference.
In our poll, conducted in February, barely over a third of Iraqis, 35 percent, thought Obama's administration will make things better for Iraq; nearly four in 10 thought he'd make no difference and two in 10 said he'd make the situation worse. That reflects general, broad skepticism in Iraq toward the United States and its efforts there.
We found vast improvements in the country, in terms of rising security, declining violence and improved public services and economic well-being. Eighty-four percent of Iraqis now rate their own security positively, double its August 2007 level. Seventy-eight percent say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely, triple what it’s been. Fifty-eight percent say things are going well for Iraq – a new high, up from only 22 percent in 2007. More, 65 percent, say things are going well in their own lives, up from 39 percent in 2007. Confidence in the national government, local governments, the army and police all are at new highs – as is support for democracy as the preferred form of government, up sharply.
That said, serious problems remain – including increased separation between Sunnis and Shiites, continued lack of access to basics such as clean water and good medical care, continued (though lessened) Sunni Arab disaffection and rising Kurdish tensions.
For all the gains, most Iraqis, 56 percent, say it was wrong for the United States and its coalition allies to invade Iraq; never in our six polls there has a majority supported the U.S.-led war. Just 27 percent are confident in U.S. forces (albeit nearly double its low). Just 30 percent say U.S. and coalition forces have done a good job carrying out their responsibilities in Iraq. Still fewer, 18 percent, have a positive opinion of the United States overall. And 81 percent either support the current timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2011 (35 percent) – or say it should be speeded up (a plurality, 46 percent).
Back home, in terms of U.S. public opinion, in our most recent data in late February six in 10 Americans continued to say the war was not worth fighting – it's been about this high, or higher, for more than two years straight. In Newsweek data last week, three-quarters either said Obama’s timetable to remove troops is about right (46 percent) or should be speeded up (28 percent).
While the economy was the coup de grace for the Bush presidency, it is the unpopular war in Iraq that mortally wounded his administration and prompted a flight from the Republican Party whose repercussions continue. That's worth Obama's attention, not just as he visits Iraq, but more so as he sends additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan.