Iraqis' Own Surge Assessment: Few See Security Gains

ByABC News
February 5, 2009, 10:23 AM

Sept. 10, 2007 — -- Barely a quarter of Iraqis say their security has improved in the past six months, a negative assessment of the surge in U.S. forces that reflects worsening public attitudes across a range of measures, even as authorities report some progress curtailing violence.

Apart from a few scattered gains, a new national survey by ABC News, the BBC and the Japanese broadcaster NHK finds deepening dissatisfaction with conditions in Iraq, lower ratings for the national government and growing rejection of the U.S. role there.

More Iraqis say security in their local area has gotten worse in the last six months than say it's gotten better, 31 percent to 24 percent, with the rest reporting no change. Far more, six in 10, say security in the country overall has worsened since the surge began, while just one in 10 sees improvement.

More directly assessing the surge itself -- a measure that necessarily includes views of the United States, which are highly negative -- 65 to 70 percent of Iraqis say it's worsened rather than improved security, political stability and the pace of redevelopment alike.

There are some improvements, but they're sparse and inconsistent. Thirty-eight percent in Anbar province, a focal point of the surge, now rate local security positively; none did so six months ago. In Baghdad fewer now describe themselves as feeling completely unsafe in their own neighborhoods -- 58 percent, down from 84 percent. Yet other assessments of security in these locales have not improved, nor has the view nationally.

Overall, 41 percent report security as their greatest personal problem, down seven points from 48 percent in March. But there's been essentially no change in the number who call it the nation's top problem (56 percent, with an additional 28 percent citing political or military issues). And there are other problems aplenty to sour the public's outlook -- lack of jobs, poor power and fuel supply, poor medical services and many more.

The big picture remains bleak. Six in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going badly, and even more, 78 percent, say things are going badly for the country overall -- up 13 points from last winter. Expectations have crumbled; just 23 percent see improvement for Iraq in the year ahead, down from 40 percent last winter and 69 percent in November 2005.

More than six in 10 now call the U.S.-led invasion of their country wrong, up from 52 percent last winter. Fifty-seven percent call violence against U.S. forces acceptable, up six points. And despite the uncertainties of what might follow, 47 percent now favor the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq -- a 12-point rise.

In a better result for the United States, fewer now blame U.S. or coalition forces directly for the violence occurring in Iraq -- 19 percent, down from 31 percent six months ago; as many (21 percent) blame al Qaeda. (Eight percent blame George W. Bush personally.)

If the United States is unpopular, others fare no better. Seventy-nine percent of Iraqis believe Iran is actively engaged in encouraging sectarian violence in Iraq, up eight points; majorities also suspect Saudi Arabia and Syria of fomenting violence. And the poll finds almost unanimous opposition to most activities of al Qaeda in Iraq; the sole exception is its attacks on U.S. and other coalition forces.

This survey, based on face-to-face interviews of 2,212 randomly selected Iraqis across the country Aug. 17-24, follows a similar poll in Iraq by ABC, the BBC and other partners last Feb. 25-March 5. Together the two surveys bracket the surge, providing an independent assessment of changes in local conditions and attitudes.

The Bush administration, with input from the U.S. military and its commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, reports this week on its own assessment of conditions in Iraq and the effect of the surge of approximately 30,000 additional U.S. troops there.

Iraqis' own views can differ from military evaluations of the surge for good reason. Public attitudes are not based on a narrow accounting of more or fewer bombings and murders, but on the bigger picture -- which for most in Iraq means continued violence, poor services, economic deprivation, inadequate reconstruction, political gridlock and other complaints. For instance, the reported drop in Baghdad from 896 violent deaths in July to 656 in August may simply have been insufficient to boost morale -- particularly when violent deaths nationally were up by 20 percent, largely on the basis of bombings that killed an estimated 500 in two villages near the Syrian border on Aug. 14.

Indeed just a quarter of Iraqis in this poll say they feel "very safe" in their own neighborhoods, unchanged from six months ago. (And none reports feeling "very safe" in Baghdad or Anbar province.) Reports of car bombings and suicide attacks are more widespread; 42 percent now say these have happened nearby, up 10 points.

With both continued violence and no improvements in living conditions, frustration with Iraq's own government has grown as well. Despite billions spent, only 23 percent of Iraqis report effective reconstruction efforts in their local area. And about two-thirds disapprove of the work of both the current government overall (up by 12 points since winter), and of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally.

The ABC/BBC/NHK poll, consisting of interviews that averaged nearly a half-hour in length, covered a wide range of attitudes and perceptions -- personal experiences, views of the nation's prospects, ratings of security and the surge, politics and reconstruction, the performance of the United States, the level of local violence, ethnic cleansing and more.

In perhaps the most bottom-line measure of a country's well-being, 61 percent of Iraqis say their lives are going badly, unchanged from last winter and double what it was in late 2005. Among Sunni Arabs, the country's elites under Saddam Hussein, this soars to 88 percent, while among Kurds in the semi-autonomous north it's jumped from one-third to half in the last six months alone.

The change over the long term is striking: In November 2005, 71 percent of Iraqis said their own lives were going well, compared with 39 percent in the last two polls.

The future looks equally bleak: Only 29 percent of Iraqis expect their own lives to get better in the next year, down six points from last winter, including a 17-point drop among Kurds. And just a third of Iraqis now think their children will have a better life than they do, down nine points from six months ago. Hopes for the next generation have fallen by 11 points among Shiites -- and by 24 points among increasingly negative Kurds.