Survey: Iraqis Frustrated but Optimistic

Iraqis are optimistic about the future but frustrated with unreliable services like electricity, and concerned about the quality of governance, according to a major poll released here Friday.

"Iraqis are hopeful about events improving, have not yet realized gains in their personal lives, and have not crossed the ‘tipping point’ in terms of their own ability to sustain a positive future, reflecting a sense of ‘skeptical optimism,’" states the report, "Capturing Iraqi Voices" [pdf], by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Despite the center’s reputation of treading to the center-right of the political spectrum, a number of its analysts have been critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, including last year’s invasion.

CSIS Director John Hamre, a defense official in the administration of former President Bill Clinton, led the first independent review of U.S. operations in Iraq last August at the request of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.

The report is based on research by seven Iraqi interviewers who surveyed more than 700 Iraqis in 15 cities across the country from June 12-27, directly before the transfer of sovereignty from the U.S. authority to the interim Iraqi government.

The interviews were designed to assess Iraqi perceptions of reconstruction in the areas of security, economic opportunity, services (water, power, etc.), governance and social well-being (health care and education) since the U.S.-led invasion.

On each issue the interviewer tried to assess two variables: respondents’ current level of satisfaction and how optimistic or pessimistic they were about the future.

The results were aggregated to determine whether needs were being met satisfactorily and how hopeful Iraqis are for the future.

Although the results are mixed, "Iraqis are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," said Bathsheba Crocker, co-director of the CSIS Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project, at the report’s release.

"Instead of a vision of complete success or utter failure, we are finding in our interview analysis that the Iraqi population is reasonably hopeful of achieving reasonable goals," added another co-director, Rick Barton.

Asked about security, for example, Iraqis overall were hopeful but did not feel able to travel throughout their communities, the report says.

Respondents rated governance lowest, with not one of the 15 cities and town expressing opinions that reflected satisfaction. However, the national average suggests people feel they have some influence over a "moderately credible government."

"Governance is the area of poorest performance. Not one of the 15 cities and towns has crossed the tipping point … a free and fair election," according to CSIS.

On average, the poll reports residents across Iraq do not have enough income to meet their basic needs but remain fairly optimistic that conditions will improve.

The ratings were highest in the social well-being category. The average Iraqi citizen has sufficient access to primary education and health care and is hopeful those things will improve, according to the survey.

With one-half of Iraqis under the age of 20, special efforts were made to interview young Iraqis, according to CSIS.

Interviews were conducted in both Sunni and Shi’a dominated provinces – Shi’a Muslims are more numerous in Iraq but their Sunni rivals have long controlled the economic and political life of the nation – as well as Kurdish areas and two of the most diverse cities, the capital Baghdad and Kirkuk.

Shi’ite cities were optimistic about their growing national role but residents remained concerned about extremists and radicals in their midst, according to the report. Mosul showed the most negative response to the current governance, reflecting that Sunnis feel squeezed by their loss of power at the center, it added.

The survey found Iraqis are not yet experiencing a satisfactory level of security, or "functional society," with the situation in Baghdad bringing the national average down.

Security in Kurdish controlled and influenced areas was ranked above the satisfactory level, while it was rated most negatively in Baghdad, where the poll found continued insecurity limiting citizens’ movements.

Of the cities in the central-southern Shi’ite areas of the country, security was said to be above the satisfactory level in Al Hera/Al-Manathera and near satisfactory in Najaf and Al-Kufa. The northwest Shi’ite town of Ana also ranked near satisfactory.

Perceptions of security remained below satisfactory in the other seven cities where residents were questioned.

Overall, Iraqis’ access to public services (water, electricity and sanitation) is between limited and sufficient levels, but residents were fairly hopeful that delivery of services would improve, the poll found.

Respondents in Najaf, Kirkuk, Ana and Sulaimaniah reported close to a satisfactory level, having sufficient access to basic services.

While Sulaimaniah, a Kurdish city, ranked best of the 15 cities, citizens in Erbil, the other Kurdish center examined, were comparatively less optimistic and less satisfied with services.

"Considering how much money the government has, we get terrible services. Electricity is only available for 10 hours a day," said a 29-year-old female university student quoted in the study.

People in Mosul reported most negatively, having little, if any, access to water, power and sanitation.

Baghdad’s citizens rated their services unsatisfactory, but were more optimistic than people in all other centers that conditions would improve.

The survey also found that, overall, Iraqis do not have enough income to meet their basic needs, but remain fairly optimistic that conditions will improve.

While a majority of the cities scored above the satisfactory level for income, the large populations of Baghdad, Mosul and al-Kut brought the national average down, according to CSIS.

Sunni areas, including Fallujah, reported results for income above the satisfactory level.

"The decrease in prices of basic commodities and the salary increase have given hope to the people that life’s going to be easier and better," said a 26-year-old female quoted in the report.

None of the cities surveyed were in the "danger zone," the area in which income did not meet basic needs and citizens were pessimistic about the future, reports the survey.

In fact, the country’s abundant oil-generated wealth led many Iraqis to believe the nation could attain an "excellent" level of public education and health care. "We do not need American money and gifts; Iraq is a rich country, with all its oil and resources," said another 26-year-old female in Baghdad.

The capital’s residents were the most hopeful that health care and education would improve, expressing a score the survey ranked as almost satisfactory.

Erbil’s residents felt their health care and education services were above satisfactory, while Al-Kut, a Shi’a area neglected during the Ba’ath regime of former President Saddam Hussein, was optimistic about improvements, but the worst off in terms of current services.

The survey found that optimism or pessimism for the future was largely reflected in how an area was treated under Hussein’s government. "If an area was favored or disfavored under Saddam then the opposite is expected now [in their treatment by the new government]," said Crocker.