In all 13 aspects of life, ranging from security to obtaining medical care, conditions have grown worse in Iraq since the United States invaded the country four years ago.
That's the conclusion of a survey of 2,212 Iraqis conducted by ABC News, USA Today, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ARD, a German television network.
As U.S. officials attempt to mark the fourth anniversary of the war this week by projecting an overly optimistic view of life in Iraq, more than half of the residents of the country say they try to avoid walking by public buildings because of their fear of suicide bombings; they stay away from markets and crowded places; and, except for the largely independent Kurds in the North, are not optimistic about their future.
The opinion poll, released this week, is extremely valuable because Americans traditionally measure progress or the lack of it by how many of its soldiers are killed or maimed in war. This survey tells the story of the war from the perspectives of the people most affected — the Iraqis themselves.
"When I go out, my family calls me every five minutes or whenever there is an explosion — there are many — to see if I am still alive. It's worry, worry all the time," Zaid Hisham, a 29-year-old Shiite engineer, told USA Today. "You can't see your future, and you can't even try to put an outline for your future."
A majority of residents say life is better for them than before the invasion, though that margin is slipping. By a margin of 43 percent to 36 percent, Iraqis said life was better than before the invasion. In November 2005, the figure was 51 percent to 29 percent.
As optimism fades in Iraq, U.S. public opinion has turned against the war, largely because of initial claims that weapons of mass destruction — the pretext for going to war — proved to be false. More than 3,200 U.S. troops have been killed and spending is approaching $500 billion, with predictions that it could exceed $1 trillion. Initially, almost 75 percent of Americans supported the invasion. The latest public opinion surveys show that opposition to the war is now at 60 percent.
In Iraq, the U.S. presence is being viewed almost as much of a problem as it is a solution. According to the poll of Iraqis, 44 percent say U.S. or allied forces have been involved in unnecessary violence nearby.
"I don't feel safe, even at my home," Munaf Mahmood Lafta, a Sunni taxi driver, told USA Today. "My brother was taken from his house by people wearing Iraqi commando uniforms. That was on Jan. 12, 2006, and we don't know where he is even now. My mother died from her sadness. So where is the safety you speak about? No safety at all and no security — not in our neighborhood, nor in my house."
Public opinion in Iraq is not universal, varying by religious and ethnic affiliations.
Kurds, 15 to 20 percent of the population concentrated in the North, report the fewest problems, according to the survey. Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population and suffered the most under Saddam Hussein, are hopeful and Sunni Arabs, about 15 or 20 percent of the population and favored by the former dictator, expressed the most desperation, according to USA Today.
Followed by a weekend of anti-war protests, Iraq received increased attention this week as the House of Representatives considers measures to cut funding for the war and set a firm pullout date of Sept. 1, 2008. A $124 billion spending bill under consideration would appropriate $95.5 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even if it passes the House, the measure is not expected to be approved by the Senate.
Two months ago, Bush ordered 21,000 additional troops to the troubled war zone. On Monday, he said: "It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that our best option is to pack up and go home. While that may be satisfying in the short run, the consequences for American security would be disastrous."
However, Democrats, who regained control of Congress largely because of voter dissatisfaction with a seemingly intractable war, feel pressured to change the course. Still, they are reluctant to move boldly for fear of being portrayed as not supporting combat troops. Just how they react to Bush's threat to veto any bill that would establish a pullout date may well determine whether they win back the White House in the 2008 election.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.