March 16, 2009 -- Children walking to school, bags swinging on their shoulders. Stonemasons laying sidewalks. Water purification kits in use. Strangers greeted with a friendliness unseen in years.
On these, nations are rebuilt.
But in the next village: wrecked homes. Rutted roads. Open sewers. Rotting garbage. Kidnappings for ransom. Suspicious faces.
On these, progress faces its many challenges.
So it is in the two Iraqs of today. One, a nation where confidence and hope are swelling on the strength of newfound security, development and political accommodation. The other, a place where six in 10 still lack good access to medical care, where rebuilding is hit-or-miss, where car bombs explode with depressing regularity, if far less frequency.
Both are apparent in the results of our latest poll there, the sixth in Iraq sponsored by ABC News and media partners. They're evident, as well, in field notes from some of the trained Iraqi interviewers who conducted the random, house-to-house surveys for us.
"We went to Al-Sarta area on 18 February," reported one, in Basra province. "We saw many children walking to school with their bags which made me very happy, because it was nearly impossible in the past years. There are schools, teachers, and paved roads in the area. We noticed that there is a very good relationship between the police and inhabitants of the neighborhood; they are cooperating with each other."
In the al-Askari district of Maysan province, more good news: "We noticed that some of the immigrated Sunnis are moved back into their neighborhood. There are no problems among them; they told us they are good neighbors. The condition of the area is good. There are parks for children, some reconstruction of buildings. We noticed there is a good relation with police in the area."
It was peaceful, too, at Al-Msayb, in Babil – but with other problems: "This area was very quiet, no security concerns, no kidnappings, only the services are very bad," another interviewer reported. "No paved roads, no stable electricity, no fuel. Most of them complained about high prices of the farming tools, high prices of limited fuel. They asked us to reach their voices to the officials."
So it was, too, in the al-Yady area of Qadisiyah; there "the security situation was very good," an interviewer reported, but other conditions far less so: "We noticed that the families in the area are poor. There is great unemployment, bad services, very bad health care, no water, no electricity. We only saw one health center, one school."
Nor is security uniformly good. At al-Shakir in Babil province, "People interviewed told us they are facing many kidnapping cases in the village. They told us (of) an armed group usually kidnapping sons of the village for ransom, also this group sometimes attacking police and army, creating fear in the village." At a Basra location, "There was tension in the area when we arrived. There were rumors about a car with bomb in the city."
In Wasit: "People told us there are kidnappings, random killings still occur. We did not see any reconstruction work in the area."
In Baghdad: "In some areas we went people complained about robbery and kidnappings, especially in Ghazaliya and Saydiya. People often told us, people working with the government get killed."
And in Diyala, an incident underscoring the hazardous conditions under which these interviewers work – and many Iraqis still live: "While (we) were doing interviews explosions in Baquba and Baladrooz happened. Soon after explosion, security operations started, but it did not affect our job."
The locale-to-locale differences are striking. At al-Wihda in Maysan province, "I noticed lots of reconstruction is going and some of them are already finished, like schools, roads, sidewalks, nice gardens for people. We saw children playing in the gardens without garbage dumps, risk of diseases. People were quite cooperative with us to join our study."
At another Maysan village, "People in this area are very aware of hygiene. They are using some tablets to make the water clean to drink. We learned that these tablets are distributed by health clinics. There is construction of schools, some buildings."
And at a Basra location, "We noticed the area is full of electronic shops, computer shops. Security is pretty well, even women are walking in the streets easily."
-At Haj Hassan in Babil, "The condition of the village was so bad. We saw big garbage dumps near the streets, no water, no electricity; the condition of the houses we saw and got inside was bad. People were complaining about lack of jobs and some of them sadly lost their sons."
-At another Babil location, "When we enter the neighborhood, first thing we noticed was the bad smell. The sewer lines are broken."
-At Thubat, in Basra: "The area is nearly destroyed (as a) result of the war. We did not see any reconstruction effort, people are suffering."
-In Anbar: "Most of the places we went were destroyed by war."
-In Salahuddin: "The homes were in bad condition, some of them are nearly destroyed. They are saying no one cares for them; they even can't use their simple right to live. They feel that they are victims of the occupation."
In sum, the empirical data from our latest poll show remarkable advances in public attitudes in Iraq – powerful enough to be the headline results. But they also show the deep difficulties that remain, expressed as well in the experiences of the interviewers who carried out this work.