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Survey Shows Iraqis Optimistic about Future - 2004-03-16

A year after the United States led an invasion of Iraq, most Iraqis say they feel optimistic about their future, but they have mixed feelings about the invasion itself, according to a nationwide poll released Tuesday.

The survey, sponsored by ABC News and other media outlets, offers the most comprehensive insight to date on how average Iraqis view the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past year and where they feel the country is going. The results were compiled from interviews with more than 2,700 people throughout Iraq last month in both Arabic and Kurdish.

Despite the difficult problems facing the country every day, 56 percent of Iraqis said their lives are better today than they were before the war.

"This is one of the things you will find in transition countries is that people will always judge that life is better than what it was before and they also expect good things to happen to them in the future," said Christoph Sahm, director of Oxford Research International, which carried out the study. "But in Iraq it is much stronger than we have seen in other countries and I do hope that this optimism, which goes around at the moment, will not end up in dashed hopes."

As to the future composition of the country, Mr. Sahm says the overwhelming majority want to see the country united and centralized.

"You have well over eight in 10 people saying they want to have a unified country, centralized with a government in Baghdad," he said. "You get 15 percent for a federal option and only four percent think the country should be split up."

Less than a half of those questioned - 48 percent - said the U.S.-led invasion was the right thing to do, while 39 percent said it was wrong.

Just as many Iraqis said they felt humiliated by the war as said they were liberated by the invasion. While 39 percent support the presence of coalition forces on their soil, 51 percent said they oppose the continued presence of foreign troops.

But more than a third said they wanted the coalition forces to stay until an Iraqi government was in place, another 18 percent said the troops should stay until security has been restored and only 15 percent said the troops should leave now.

Regaining public security in the country is by a huge margin the highest priority for most Iraqis, ranking far above rebuilding the country's economy or holding elections for national government.

On the political front, 47 percent of those asked said they prefer a strong leader, no matter whether elected or not, but nearly one-half chose democracy as their preferred form of government. Six of 10, however, could not name a single individual they would trust as their leader.

When asked about their confidence in public institutions, 70 percent said they trusted religious leaders. Trust in police also ranks high, with 68 percent, while only 39 percent said they trust the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Authors of the study said political fragmentation among the Iraqi people "throws into some question" the notion of early elections.