Things are looking brighter in Iraq, according to a recently released poll of Iraqis conducted at the end of February. The poll was sponsored by ABC, the BBC and Japan’s NHK.
Asked how well things were going for them in their life, 65 percent of Iraqi respondents said things were going well for them. This is compared to 55 percent of Iraqis responding in a similar manner in February 2008 and just 39 percent saying life was going well for them in August 2007.
On a personal level, Iraqis seem optimistic about their futures. Fifty-six percent of Iraqis believe that life will be better for them a year from now than it is today, while 22 percent of that 56 percent believe life will be “much” better. In a poll conducted in August 2007, only 29 percent of Iraqis believed life would be better for them in a year’s time.
Asked about security in their local village or neighborhood, 84 percent of Iraqis responded by saying the situation was good. In August 2007, only 43 percent of Iraqis responded that way. Considering that just two years ago Iraq was convulsed in what appeared like never-ending violence, this is astonishing.
Significantly, most Iraqis surveyed rejected the idea of an Islamic state and declared that they want a unified central democratic government. Sixty-four percent of those polled said they want to see a democracy established in Iraq, while only 19 percent said they wanted an Islamic state governed according to religious principles, and only 14 percent said they wanted a strongman dictator ruling the country. This support for democracy registers all across the board with over 60 percent of each major Iraqi ethnic subgroup (Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs) supporting a democratic political model.
As for Iraq’s political structure, 70 percent said they would prefer a unified central government, as opposed to federal states system with a weak central government in Baghdad or the country divided up into separate sovereign political entities. There was almost no support among Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs for separate states, but alarmingly nearly four in 10 Kurds said they wanted the country split up into separate political entities. No matter how deserving they are of their own state, the creation of a Kurdish state would likely lead to a war with Turkey and bring disaster to Iraq’s potential to become a stable country in the Middle East.
But there are many other positive signs one can decipher from the poll. Iraqis indicate that the availability of jobs in their neighborhood and village has increased. Though still very low, the trend is going up. For instance, only 25 percent of Iraqi Sunni Arabs say that the availability of jobs in their neighborhood is good. While that is obviously low, it is also 25 times better than what was registered by Iraqi Sunni Arabs in an August 2007 poll. Similarly, while the availability of clean water, the supply of electricity and the availability of medical care are far from ideal according to Iraqis, they are significantly improved since 2007, even if they remain below the pre-chaos 2005 highs.
Again, on the personal level, things in Iraq are improving in many ways. Sixty percent of Iraqis say their family’s economic situation is good, 78 percent say their family’s protection from crime is good and 74 percent say that their freedom of movement (getting where they want to go safely) is good. These are incredibly positive survey results.
Moreover, Iraqis have strong confidence in their national army, their police, their national government and their court system. Disturbingly, they do not trust Coalition Forces, even though it is largely due to the efforts of these brave and valiant soldiers that so much has improved in Iraq.
The poll shows many positive signs, but it does not present an idealized Iraq. Many Iraqis are skeptical that their elected representatives will be able to make some of the difficult compromises necessary for Iraq to move forward. Only 43 percent say they can live where they want without persecution (though this is significantly higher than in 2007). Still, Iraqis are confident things will continue to improve in the future and 74 percent believe that the improved security situation will last.
It is not rare for me to encounter people who still view Iraq as a complete failure, enmeshed in chaos and bloodshed, as if they have not read a newspaper since 2007. They live in a state of denial. At this point, the facts are overwhelming. Things have improved dramatically in Iraq due to the bravery of American and Coalition troops; the daring of President George W. Bush to authorize the surge and its accompanying change in strategy in the face of strong opposition; the courage of Iraqis who decided to stand up and fight for their country against those who sought to tear it apart; and to a general, David Petraeus, who has already solidified himself as one of history’s greatest.
Whether or not one supported the Iraq War, they should recognize the progress that has been made since 2007. And they should root for Iraqis to overcome the many remaining obstacles in their way so that they can emerge when the dust settles as a strong, stable and hopefully democratic society. This would not only be positive for Iraq, but for the United States and the region as a whole.