Iraq: Where Things Stand


March 19, 2007— -- "We spent a lot of money because I was optimistic that the situation would improve. Now I regret that decision." - Mohammad Hassin, 38, Baghdad restaurant owner

"In our final exams in college, the phone of a female student rang with a Shiite religious song...The professor was a Sunni Kurd and a former Baathist, and he became very angry and started shouting at the girl, telling her what a bad song this is."- Ayman Ali, 23, Baghdad cigarette company employee

"It is hard to say this but years ago I was praying for the death of [former president] Saddam Hussein, but today I wish he could come back to life and was in power again, because at least in his time we used to have safe water, good sewage systems, had food to eat and our children never got diarrhea," - Sahira Saleh, 41 Sadr City resident

"I am very optimistic for the future of Iraq…[because] I know its people."- Nizar Hana, Erbil businessman

"We used to live as neighbors for centuries, and there were no problems between us at all. We have married their women, and they have married our women. We attended their parties and wakes, and they did the same. But after the bombings of Samarra, things collapsed between us."- Sattar Jabbar, 41, Shiite imam, al-Jalaika mosque, al-Hahama district north of Baghdad

This report is the product of three parallel efforts: reporting conducted in roughly two dozen cities and towns across Iraq, by ABC News Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy, producer Almin Karamehmedovic, the staff of the ABC bureau in Baghdad and reporters from USA Today and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); a nationwide poll -- one of the most comprehensive opinion surveys ever done in modern Iraq; and research culled by ABC News staffers.

It is the fifth such report since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Each one has differed somewhat in methodology while sharing a fundamental goal: to understand how Iraq and its people are faring, in comparison to the pre-invasion period. Are Iraqis better off today than before the war? Have their lives improved in tangible, quantifiable ways? Are they optimistic about the future? Such questions are what this project is all about.

The conclusions this time are unambiguous, and disturbing. Iraqis report a collapse of basic services, a steep decline in quality-of-life indices, and -- perhaps most significant -- an erosion of hope and faith that the future will bring better times. As ABC News polling director Gary Langer writes of the poll itself, it "paints a devastating portrait of life in Iraq." In the last "Where Things Stand" report (December 2005), even Iraqis who reported great difficulties in their own circumstances told us their lives were going well (71 percent); they believed that post-invasion Iraq was better than Saddam Hussein's Iraq (51 percent) and that their future was bright (64 percent). Today that hope is gone. Only 39 percent say their lives are going well, just 42 percent say life is better than it was under Saddam Hussein, and only 35 percent see better days ahead.

Optimism in Iraq has been shredded by violence that has touched a staggering number of Iraqis directly; today 53 percent report having a close friend or immediate relative who's been hurt or killed. A full 80 percent report attacks nearby -- car bombs, snipers, kidnappings, armed forces, fighting each other or abusing civilians. As Terry McCarthy reports, "car bombs and death squads have torn apart the fabric of a society where one third of all marriages used to be mixed, and people rarely asked or cared whether someone was Sunni or Shiite."

In central Iraq especially, a profound schism has opened between Iraq's Sunni and Shia Muslims. Already in December 2005, we reported that differences were growing between the groups on a range of questions -- about Iraqi politics and their lives more generally. The February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine at Samarra widened the divide dramatically, and drove many Iraqis on both sides to violence. Today the divide is mirrored in public opinion: 70 percent of Shiites and 83 percent of Kurds -- groups brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein -- still favor the invasion. But 98 percent of Iraq's Sunnis -- who were empowered under Saddam -- say the invasion was wrong. Roughly half of Shiites say their lives are going well; only 7 percent of Sunnis say the same.

The violence and sectarian divide have conspired to bring down ratings for several critical aspects of daily life -- jobs, schools, power and fuel supply, and health care, to name a few. Just 16 months ago, majorities rated eight of 10 categories as "good;" today a majority in each case rank these areas as "bad." While less dramatic than the violence itself, these quality-of-life indicators continue to matter greatly to the Iraqi people.

The United States -- which only three years ago won at least grudging praise for its invasion and credit for positive developments -- today comes in for withering blame. Three years ago 51 percent of Iraqis opposed the presence of American forces on their soil; today 78 percent are opposed. Perhaps most disturbing from an American perspective, 51 percent of Iraqis now tell us it would be "acceptable" to attack U.S. or coalition forces in Iraq; in early 2004 the figure was 17 percent.

Four years on, silver linings are hard to come by. The Kurdish north remains an island of relative calm and prosperity by nearly every metric (save electricity and fuel). Certainly Iraq's Kurds believe life is improving. Having said that, ABC's Terry McCarthy discovered different ethnic tensions in Kirkuk -- not Sunni vs. Shia, but Turkmen vs. Arab vs. Kurd. Commerce continues to grow in many places, despite all the problems. And the prospect of passage of an oil law raises hopes for a more prosperous and equitable future in many parts of the country. Amid all the violence we have also found vestiges of an indomitable Iraqi optimism. Anecdotally, these are best exemplified by the Baghdad emergency-room physicians who never shrink from their work, the police recruits who keep lining up for duty, and the ballet school students still dancing, though their piano teachers are gone. Overall, for all the troubles, a majority of Iraqis -- 58 percent -- say they want Iraq to remain a single, unified state.

But for the most part, this is an unmistakably distressing portrait of a nation. Only 16 months ago, when we last conducted these surveys, we reported that Iraq stood at a turning point, with "ample reasons for optimism" and a profound faith in the future. Today that faith and optimism seem distant indeed. The question of course is whether a "turning point" has come and gone.

This year's poll was conducted for ABC News, USA Today, the BBC and ARD German Television between Feb. 25 and March 5, 2007. Interviews were conducted with a random national sample of 2,212 Iraqi adults in every one of the country's eighteen provinces, including so-called "oversamples" in Anbar province, Basra city, Kirkuk and the Sadr City section of Baghdad. The results have a 2.5-point error margin.

ABC's Terry McCarthy and other ABC News producers and reporters visited 18 cities and towns across the country. These trips were complemented by reporting conducted for the project by USA Today and the BBC. In many cases ABC News went back to see people we had come to know during earlier versions of the report -- the police chief in Kirkuk, doctors at Nasariyah Hospital, a Baquba engineer and a Basra hotel manager. At every step, we were interested to learn how lives had been changed, for better or worse, since the Americans came to Iraq.

Using official reports from nongovernmental organizations and U.S. and Iraqi government agencies, as well as original reporting from both ABC News and USA Today, we have compiled statistics about life in Iraq. For each of the criteria below, we attempt to answer a simple question: Has it gotten better, worse or remained the same as compared to early 2004, when we first polled Iraqis nationwide. For the sake of these measurements, we have broken the country down into three geographic areas -- north, south and center. This breakdown is imperfect, of course; each region has significant divisions within it. The north, for example, includes both Kurdistan, which is faring comparatively well, and the non-Kurdish north, which is not. These "grades" are based on our poll, our reporting and our research.

North: same or worseCentral: worseSouth: same or worse

Security -- or the absence thereof -- has been the overriding concern for Iraqis since the invasion. Forty-eight percent cite security issues as the greatest problem in their lives, far more than said so in either 2004 or 2005. And it has been the case since we began these surveys that security troubles have damaged nearly every aspect of Iraqi life. Beyond the casualties themselves, the lack of security has kept children from schools, kept oil production below targets, shuttered businesses and stalled reconstruction projects. It has driven not only an enormous number (2 million, at last count) of people from the country, but also a broad range of people. According to a December 2006 U.N. report, "Various professional groups, including educators, medical professionals, journalists, judges and lawyers, religious and political leaders" have been targeted in the sectarian violence and forced to leave their homes.

The last time we polled Iraqis -- little more than one year ago -- 63 percent told us they felt "very safe" in their neighborhoods; now that figure has plummeted to 26 percent. Today three quarters of Iraqis say they lack the freedom to move about safely, or to live where they wish without persecution.

Baghdad is now home to an almost unfathomable mix of violence and fear. We imagine as much, watching our daily coverage, but what we have found is startling nonetheless. As ABC News polling director Langer puts it, "essentially no one in Baghdad counts himself or herself as 'very safe,' vs. 32 percent elsewhere." Terry McCarthy and the ABC Baghdad bureau visited Sunni and Shiite "vigilante guards," armed gunmen who now number in the thousands, policing neighborhoods and sometimes carrying out revenge attacks against their sectarian enemies. The situation is moderately better in the south -- where banditry is more common than large-scale bombings. The Kurdish north remained a far brighter spot in these terms -- a place where nearly eight in 10 Iraqis feel "very safe," and where Iraqis are much less likely to have witnessed violence or even to have been indirectly affected by it.

All of this has taken a profound emotional toll. Seven in 10 Iraqis report multiple signs of possible traumatic stress: depression, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and anger. It has also taken a toll on business and commercial traffic. Mohammad Hassin, a Baghdad restaurant owner, estimated that 70 percent of sit-down restaurants in the capital had shut down since 2003. The reasons? Food costs, fuel costs and all those well-heeled customers who have fled the country.

The violence has of course intruded on the work of reporters -- our own Bob Woodruff and CBS News' Kimberly Dozier being the highest-profile examples. And on several occasions the violence intruded on the poll-takers' work.

The good news here, such as it is, involves the hope that the U.S.-led "surge" of forces will improve matters -- and the continued growth of Iraq's security forces. The boost has seen police and army recruiting reach target levels -- though as we have learned from reporting in the last year, there are grave questions about the capability of these forces -- in particular the police, who are known to have been infiltrated by militia. While the Pentagon reports that Iraqi units are increasingly "taking the lead in operations," with 91 battalions now deemed battle-ready, a separate State Department report notes that "continued infiltration of the ISF and Iraqi Police by militia members also contributes to the escalating violence in some parts of the country." (As we write, The New York Times reports the story of a Baghdad district council member who complained that "The government, the Ministry of Interior, the army, all are sectarian." Two days after talking to the paper, the man was shot to death.)

The numbers below speak for themselves:

Iraqi Police killed: At least 6,208 (since war began) Iraqi civilians killed: (Estimates range widely) Brookings Index: between 53,000-59,000 Iraq Body Count: between 58,000-64,500United Nations: 72,347 (through December 2006)Percentage of Iraqis who say someone in their own household has been harmed by current violence: 17

Iraqi journalists killed: 93 (168, including journalists' drivers and interpreters, as well as nonhostile but war-related deaths)Iraqis kidnapped: 30-40 per day (as of March 2006)Attacks on Iraqi oil and gas pipelines, installations and personnel: 391Internally displaced people in Iraq (Note - these numbers are cumulative): 2003: 100,0002004: 200,0002005: 250,0002006: 650,000Percent of Iraqi professional class to leave the country since 2003 (as of June 2006): 40 percentEstimated number of Iraqis who have fled the country: 2,000,000Percentage of Iraqis who say they would leave the country if they could: 30 Strength of insurgency nationwide (Estimate):November 2003: 5,000January 2005: 18,000October 2005: 15,000 - 20,000October 2006: 20,000 - 30,000 Total Iraqi Forces (Police, National Guard, Iraqi Armed Forces and Border Patrol):December 2003: 99,600Current: 328,700

North: worseCentral: worseSouth: worse

From the first of the "Where Things Stand" reports, electricity has regularly ranked high on the list of most important quality-of-life indicators. In 2004, several Iraqis asked our reporters a basic question: How is it that the United States -- wealthiest nation in the world -- cannot repair our power grids?

Today, despite enormous efforts and expenditures -- the United States has invested roughly $320 million in oil and electricity infrastructure as of October 2006 -- satisfaction in this area ranks lowest among the indicators. After some initial progress between 2003 and 2006, many Iraqis have actually seen power supplies decline in the last year and a half. According to the United Nations, "The electricity sector in Iraq is in a dire state." And as Gary Langer notes, "While violence is devastating, it's sporadic; the lack of fuel and power are a lower-level discomfort, but a daily one." Today 88 percent of Iraqis say their power supply is inadequate or nonexistent; the corresponding number was 54 percent in late 2005.

The trouble is particularly acute in central Iraq. Baghdad receives considerably less power than the rest of the country, and less than it did before the U.S. invasion. As we reported last year, before the war Saddam Hussein saw to it that Baghdad residents enjoyed an almost constant supply of electricity, often by siphoning electricity from other parts of the country. Now that pattern has been reversed; beyond Baghdad, the numbers are better than prewar -- roughly 12 hours of power on average per day.

In one way, electricity presents a "good news, bad news" snapshot of the country: demand for electricity continues to rise with the proliferation of new appliances (good news -- this is illustrative of a growing economy). The bad news: The system has not kept pace, and in Baghdad it has suffered repeated setbacks. Feeder lines to electrical grids have been sabotaged. The price for substitutes -- power generators and ice, for example -- have skyrocketed.

On March 1, 2007, U.S. Brigadier Gen. Michael Walsh was asked when Iraq would enjoy full electricity capacity. His answer: 2013. And on Jan. 25, 2007, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., recalled a warning former U.S. envoy Paul Bremer had given about power blackouts -- "Iraqis," Bremer had said, "face an indefinite period of blackouts eight hours per day." Noting that Baghdad had slipped to less than seven hours per day of power, Biden said, "At this point the eight hours of daily blackouts, as Ambassador Bremer warned about, would be a dramatic step in the right direction."

Average Amount of Electricity Generated (megawatts):

Prewar (Estimates):Nationwide: 3,958Baghdad: 2,500

January 2005:Nationwide: 3,289 Baghdad: 985

February 2007:Nationwide: 3,600Baghdad: NA (last available report, April 2005: 854)

Average Hours of Electricity Per Day:

Prewar (Estimates):Nationwide: 4-8Baghdad: 16-24

January 2005Nationwide: 9Baghdad: 9

September 2005Nationwide: 13.5Baghdad: 10.4

February 2007Nationwide: 9.3Baghdad: 6.0

Oil Production:

Crude production (millions of barrels/day)Prewar: 2.5 (estimate)September 2005: 2.11February 2007: 2.08

Crude export (millions of barrels/day)Pre-ar: 1.7-2.5 (estimate)September 2005: 1.60February 2007: 1.54

Nationwide Unemployment:

June 2003: 50-60 percentSeptember 2005: 27-40 percent January 2007: 25-40 percent

Median Household Monthly Income:

2004: $1502005: $2042007: $286

Iraq GDP (U. S. $ billions):

2002: 20.52003: 13.62004: 25.52005: 34.5 (estimate)2006: 48.5 (projected)

North - same or worseCentral - worseSouth - same or worse

Sewage treatment and clean water -- taken for granted, perhaps, in this country -- continue to rate as extremely important quality-of life issues in Iraq. A top U.S. general briefed ABC News reporters recently and shared his frustration over the slow pace of clean water and sewage projects. "You cannot overstate this," the general said. "Iraqis drinking bad water, Iraqi kids walking in sewage. It's a killer."

Overall, our poll found yet another erosion in optimism here -- only 30 percent of Iraqis believe their clean water supply is "good," down from 58 percent just a year and a half ago, despite significant effort and money being spent on bringing potable water and sewage treatment to more Iraqis. According to the U.S. government, Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF)-funded water projects have added or restored potable water treatment for approximately 5.35 million Iraqis who did not have access to potable water in April 2003.

Facts on the ground help explain the poll numbers. Particularly in central and northern Iraq, the water situation has worsened. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) finds a slight improvement in water supplies in the south, but a deterioration elsewhere. The United Nations reports a significant increase -- 70 percent -- in cases of diarrhea among children since January 2006; the rise is 40 percent among adults. The United Nations and other NGOs involved in water treatment say the highest incidents have come in the Anbar Province towns of Hit, Rumana and parts of Fallujah and Ramadi. Sixty percent of people in Anbar Province are currently drinking river water.

Violence and looting have hurt this sector, too. UNICEF transports water into Iraq each day, a service that reaches roughly 350,000 people -- but the organization's deliveries have been severely limited in the last year because of daily looting. Potable water systems throughout Baghdad have been destroyed, and aid workers are reluctant to move in and fix them because of security concerns.

Access to clean drinking water: 32 percent of population

Access to a good sewage system: 19 percent of population

North: same or worseCentral: worseSouth: same or better

In our last report we were able to note "an almost unqualified success story" in the realm of education. Large majorities of Iraqis in the north, south and central parts of the country told us they believed that education where they lived had improved.

Today that positive outlook has taken a beating: Only 43 percent of Iraqis rate their local schools as "good" -- down from 74 percent in December 2005. There has been a stark drop in the numbers of children attending school -- not a reflection of the quality of schools, necessarily, but the safety of the schools. "Simply getting to class," according to one account, "has become an accountable risk for many…" According to Iraq's Ministry of Education, only 30 percent of 3.5 million Iraqi elementary-school children are attending classes -- a remarkable drop from 75 percent two years ago. While the vast majority of schools remain open and the government has instituted a relocation program for families who want to move their kids to safer areas, millions of children are receiving a sporadic education at best. The Education Ministry has hired thousands of guards to protect schools, and it recently increased teachers' salaries by 20 to 50 percent in an attempt to entice them to stay in their jobs.

A joint study by the Ministry and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) last year found that of those who do not attend school, 74 percent are female. Aid agencies estimate that thousands of Iraqi parents do not send their daughters to school for cultural reasons and because of the general insecurity in the country.

Several ABC News personnel have witnessed the troubles first hand. Correspondent Dan Harris was at a university campus when gunfire broke out; a Baghdad primary school teacher, who asked not to be identified by name, said many parents pulled children from the school once they learned it was guarded by the Mahdi Army; and a 28-year-old mother of two told USA Today that her children now keep cell phones in class so that she can check on their safety -- and that they "talk about the bodies they see in the street, about the car bombs, and the explosions."

Education professionals killed (since 2003): 155

Overall attendance rate:

2006: 50 percent

Elementary school attendance rate:

2004: 75 percent2006: 30 percent

Since 2003, USAID has rehabilitated nearly 3,000 schools and supplied, together with UNESCO, 20 million new textbooks.

North: same or worseCentral: worseSouth: same

The ICRC reports that "health services and infrastructure have steadily deteriorated," calling the situation in Baghdad "particularly critical." Dr. Ibraheem Maroof, of Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital, told us that "Our hospital is the main center for emergencies in Baghdad -- and most of our equipment is not functioning." From our survey, we know this much: That in our last poll 62 percent of Iraqis told us the availability of health care was "good;" today that figure has dropped by half, to 31 percent.

Medical staff in Iraq today often lack adequate protection; more than half the country's registered doctors have fled, according to the ICRC -- a shocking and obviously damaging development. One doctor -- a 29-year-old general practitioner named Hassanain Abdul Jabaar, told us he quit because the trip to his Baghdad hospital had become too dangerous. "I think I'm done," he said. "There is no hope for the medical practice in Iraq."

Certainly more money has been spent on health care since the prewar time -- but again, Iraqis in many parts of the country are not seeing the benefits. The health care system continues to suffer the effects of disrepair, lack of medicines, and poor equipment. "You can see the nice wards," Dr. Jareer Razaq Aziz told us at the main hospital in Nasariyah, "but there are no drugs." Hospitals and clinics are hampered by the problems in other areas -- poor sanitation and water supply, sporadic electricity and of course the threat of violence. The highest-profile example of this: the kidnapping, in November 2006, of the Deputy Minister of Health.

One note regarding the sectarian divide: The fact that the Ministry of Health is run by Shiites may account for the relative consistency noted by Iraqis in the south. A story of promise and potential is the building of the Basra Children's Hospital -- a $77 million project that is due to be completed in July 2008.

Hospitals built since invasion: none

Doctors and pharmacists murdered: 200 (approx.)

Doctors who have fled abroad: 15,000 (approx.)

Ambulance drivers in Baghdad:

2003: 802007: 400

North: same or worseCentral: worseSouth: same

Commerce has been a good-news area, since we began putting together these reports. This year it presents a puzzle. In December 2005, 60 percent rated this area as "good;" now that figure is 38 percent. Part of this may reflect overall malaise; part, economic deprivation; part, the difficulties and dangers inherent in simply traveling to purchase available goods. In our poll, 54 percent of Iraqis -- rising to 74 percent among Sunni Arabs -- told us they often stay away from markets and other crowded areas in order to avoid trouble. And yet if they do venture out, Iraqis in many parts of the country can buy a wider variety of goods -- and in some cases more Iraqis have done so. Residents of Sadr City told us they have possessions -- appliances in particular -- they never dreamed of having before the war. The figures under "statistics" below show huge jumps in the number of Iraqis with cell phones and Internet service -- as well as a huge jump in virtually all forms of available media.

One can find -- as Terry McCarthy did at the southern port of Abu Flus, the Iranian border crossing at Zurbathia, or the northern city or Erbil -- places where goods and services are moving at rates higher than before the war, and where commerce has survived -- thrived, even -- despite the violence. Open borders, the lifting of prewar sanctions, and more disposable income have all contributed to an explosion in commerce.

During his travels in the Kurdish north, Terry McCarthy found a real-estate boom -- personified most dramatically by a proud and hopeful man named Nizar Hana, who is bankrolling a huge mall -- to the tune of 1 billion dollars -- in the center of Erbil.

Telephone subscribers:

Prewar: 833,000 (estimate; ONLY land lines since Iraq had no cellular network)January 2004: 600,000 January 2005: 2,449,139August 2005: 4,590,398January 2007: 8,100,000 (approx)

Mobile telephone in household:

February 2004: 6 percentNovember 2005: 62 percentMarch 2007: 89 percent

Internet subscribers (Does not include unregulated users at Internet cafes):

Prewar: 4,500 (estimate)January-April 2004: NAMay 2004: 54,000March 2005: 147,076August 2006: 197,310

Washing machine in household:

February 2004: 44 percentNovember 2005: 54 percentMarch 2007: 59 percent

Commercial television stations:

Prewar: 0 January 2005: 10October 2005: 44March 2006: 54

Commercial Radio Stations:

Prewar: 0 January 2005: 51October 2005: 72March 2006: 114

Independent newspapers and magazines:

Prewar: 0January 2005: 100October 2005: more than 100March 2006: 268

Iraqi Airways average daily passengers:

2005: 3002006: 1,500

Iraqi Airways average daily flights:

2005: 3-42006: 10-12

North: sameCentral: worseSouth: same

The last "Where Things Stand" report was published on the eve of the December 2005 elections -- when faith in both the electoral process and public institutions ran fairly high.

Today we found several signs of eroding support for the leaders of Iraq. Public support for democracy has fallen to roughly 40 percent. Views of the performance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are negative -- though his ratings mirror the sectarian divide; more than 6 in 10 among Kurds and Shiites support the Prime Minister; 96 percent of Sunnis disapprove.

Generally speaking, trust in public institutions is sharply divided along sectarian lines -- very low among Sunnis, far higher among Shiites and Kurds. This is the case whether the institution in question is the national government, local government, the army or the police. One smaller, still critical example: There remains no true consensus on what legal system to use; courts do not exist in many areas and are corrupt and ineffective in others.

Finally, 42 percent of Iraqis today say their country is in a civil war. Another 24 percent see one as likely.

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