Our last "Where Things Stand" poll in Iraq was conducted in 2009, in a rare moment of increased optimism there after the carnage of 2006-7. But still it showed the fundamental divisions between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that have threatened to tear the country apart virtually since the end of Saddam's rule.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had 70 percent approval from Shiites, 51 percent from Kurds, a mere 31 percent from Sunnis (even if the latter was up from 8 percent a year earlier). There were similar divisions in views of the national government overall, trust in the military and other institutions, and in personal experiences from security to health care to the provision of other services.
Eighty-five percent of Kurds and 67 percent of Shiites felt "very safe" in their neighborhoods; that fell to 33 percent of Sunnis. Separation among these groups was on the rise: In 2008, 27 percent of Iraqis lived in completely Shiite neighborhoods, 27 percent in completely Sunni neighborhoods; by 2009 it was 36 percent apiece - more than seven in 10 living apart. Six in 10 Iraqis said they only had friends of the same religious doctrine as their own. As we reported: "The meaning of that increased separation is a profound one for Iraq's future."
In terms of the north, just 44 percent of Iraqis rated Kurdish-Arab relations positively, dropping to 22 percent of Sunnis. Fifty-nine percent expected the Kurdish provinces to try formally to separate.
On a personal level, seven in 10 Shiites and Kurds alike said things were going well in their own lives; that dropped to 49 percent of Sunnis (albeit up from a dismal 7 percent in 2007). Sunnis were much less likely than Shiites to report having access to medical care, clean water or electricity, and were 21 points less apt than Shiites to say the national government was providing services in their area - again as we reported, "elements that could encourage resentment in the future."
We did find Sunnis starting to re-engage in national life, e.g. stepping back from their desire for strongman rule, moving to a tentative preference for democracy (and not an Islamic state). And sizable majorities of Sunnis and Shiites alike (91 and 74 percent) preferred that Iraq remain a unified country with a central government. Kurds differed.
That was then. Our "Where Things Stand" polling in Iraq ended in 2009. Clearly the divisions in Iraqi society did not.
(One other point: Shiites often are referred to as the majority group in Iraq, based, we think, on a faulty citation in the CIA World Factbook. Our data, 2007-2009, indicate that the breakdown is 49 percent Shiite, 32 percent Sunni Arab, 16 percent Kurdish and 4 percent other.)