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USA Today cites IRI Iraq Poll

March 16, 2005
Most Iraqis say future looks brighter
By Barbara Slavin

WASHINGTON — More Iraqis believe their country is headed in the right direction and fewer think it's going wrong than at any time since the U.S. invasion two years ago, according to a new poll.

The poll, by the International Republican Institute (IRI), due to be made public Wednesday, also found that nearly half of Iraqis believe that religion has a special role to play in government.

The survey of 1,967 Iraqis was conducted Feb. 27-March 5, after Iraq held its first free elections in half a century in January. According to the poll, 62% say the country is headed in the right direction and 23% say it is headed in the wrong direction. That is the widest spread recorded in seven polls by the group, says Stuart Krusell, IRI director of operations for Iraq. In September, 45% of Iraqis thought the country was headed in the wrong direction and 42% thought it was headed in the right direction. The IRI is a non-partisan, U.S. taxpayer-funded group that promotes democracy abroad.

Pollsters did not survey three of Iraq's 18 provinces because of security and logistical concerns. Two of those omitted, Anbar and Ninevah, are predominantly Sunni Muslim. A third, Dahuk, is mostly Kurdish. Krusell said that even if those areas had been included and 100% had expressed negative views, the poll would still have shown that most Iraqis believe that the situation in their country is improving.

The poll showed continuing sharp differences among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, with 33% in Arab Sunni areas believing the country is headed in the right direction, compared with 71% of Kurds and 66% in the Shiite south. The deposed regime of Saddam Hussein favored Arab Sunnis and persecuted Kurds and Shiites.

According to the poll, more than 80% of Iraqis voted Jan. 30 in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. In Sunni areas, 44% voted.

The newly elected assembly, which meets for the first time today, is to choose a government and write a constitution.

The poll showed that Iraqis are almost evenly split over the role of religion in government, with 48% favoring a "special role" for religion, but 44% saying religion and government should remain separate. A plurality of 47% say religious leaders should have the greatest input in writing the constitution.

Krusell said that is not surprising since Iraq is predominantly Muslim but that "it doesn't translate into support for Sharia," or strict Islamic law. Of those polled, 22% say the constitution should ensure "the Muslim identity of Iraq" but only 4% say Sharia should be the most important element.