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Optimism About Iraq – in Iraq By: Byron York
TheHill.com | Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Finally — finally — someone is hearing the good news from Iraq.

It’s the Iraqis themselves.

Presumably without access to The New York Times, The Washington Post and television news, millions of Iraqis say their lives are better than they were last year, better than they were before the United States invasion, and will likely be better a year from now than today.

The news is in a new poll of Iraqis conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, the Japanese television network NHK and the German magazine Der Spiegel.

When it came out, it seemed that one of its sponsors, ABC, could hardly believe its results.

“Surprising levels of optimism prevail in Iraq,” ABC’s Gary Langer and Jon Cohen wrote on the network’s website, “with living conditions improved, security more a national worry than a local one and expectations for the future high.”

There were concerns, of course — Langer and Cohen noted that many Iraqis, while feeling good about their own situations, were worried about the country’s overall condition, and that there were “vast differences” in the ways Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds viewed things.

But the good news seemed too much to deny. “Despite the daily violence [in Iraq],” Langer and Cohen concluded, “most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.”

The media pollsters began their survey by asking, “Overall, how would you say things are going in your life these days — very good, quite good, quite bad or very bad?”

Seventy-one percent of those polled say very good or quite good — up from 55 percent in a poll taken in June 2004. Twenty-nine percent say their lives are quite bad or very bad — down from 45 percent in 2004.

The pollsters also asked about individual aspects of the respondents’ lives in the neighborhoods where they live. Sixty-one percent report that the security situation is very good or quite good. Sixty-six percent rate their protection from crime as very good or quite good.

Seventy-four percent say local schools are very good or quite good. Seventy percent say their family’s economic situation is very good or quite good. Seventy-eight percent rate their freedom of speech as very good or quite good.

Of course, there are some who say their situation is worse than it was last year, and worse than it was before the war. But in both cases, they are in the minority.

The Iraqis polled by ABC and the other news organizations also express confidence in a number of national institutions. Sixty-seven percent say they have a great deal or a lot of confidence in the new Iraqi army. And 68 percent say they have a great deal or a lot of confidence in the police. Those numbers rank alongside confidence in the country’s religious leaders, which is at 67 percent.

And what kind of political system do Iraqis believe they should have? The answer, according to the survey, is democracy.

The pollsters asked whether Iraqis would prefer one of three types of government: “Strong leader: a government headed by one man for life,” “Islamic state: where politicians rule according to religious principles,” or “Democracy: a government with a chance for the leaders to be replaced from time to time.”

Twenty-six percent say a strong leader. Fourteen percent say an Islamic state. And 57 percent say democracy.

That’s for now. Asked which system would be best for Iraq five years from now, 64 percent say democracy.

The pollsters also asked, “From today’s perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong or absolutely wrong that the U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003?”

From much of the reporting seen in the United States, one might assume that nearly all Iraqis would say that the invasion was wrong. But that’s not the case.

Nineteen percent say the invasion was absolutely right, and 28 percent say it was somewhat right — for a net positive result of 47 percent. Seventeen percent say the invasion was somewhat wrong, and 33 percent say it was absolutely wrong — for a net negative result of 50 percent. That’s obviously a mixed picture — but quite different from the impression left by much reporting in the United States.

Finally, there is the economic picture. In a 2004 poll, the average monthly income of the respondents was $164. Now, it’s $263 — a 63 percent increase.

In 2004, 6 percent of Iraqis reported having a cell phone. Now it’s 62 percent.

In 2004, 43 percent had a car. Now it’s 55 percent.

In 2004, 44 percent had an air conditioner. Now it’s 58 percent.

In 2003 (in another poll), 32 percent had a satellite dish. Now it’s 86 percent.

Put it all together and it’s a lot of good news — on security, politics and the economy. Just in case you missed it.

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