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Associated Press/Photo by Hadi Mizban

Hope in numbers

Iraq | On the sixth anniversary of the start of the war, statistical and polling numbers reveal an optimistic Iraq

If numbers can tell a story, then on this sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq they tell a hopeful one. As we have outlined in our current cover story, U.S. combat deaths in November 2004 totaled 137, and in November 2008, 12 died. For Iraqis the comparison looks like this: 2,650 Iraqi civilian deaths in November 2004 and 500 four years later.

Even better, the number of trained Iraqis able to manage security and enforce the rule of law is dramatically up. Trained Iraqi security forces have increased five-fold in the last four years to over half a million. The number of trained judges-despite the fact that hundreds of law professionals have been assassinated during the war-has grown from 175 in 2004 to more than 1,200 today. The total number of judges needed to preside in Iraq, according to U.S. Justice Department, is 1,500.

With numbers like that it's perhaps not surprising that Iraqis are feeling better about their country. But the sixth in a series of ABC/BBC polls tracking Iraqi opinion has caught even the pollsters off-guard. In releasing their poll results this week pollsters say public attitudes in Iraq reveal "a stunning reversal of the spiral of despair caused by Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007."

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In March 2007, 25 percent of Iraqis said they enjoyed freedom of movement; today, 74 percent claim it. Two years ago barely 40 percent of Iraqis said they felt protected from crime; in 2009, 78 percent say they are protected. And when asked about overall security, 84 percent of Iraqis rate security in their area positively-nearly double the rate from 2007.

A large percentage of Iraqis still blame the United States for post-invasion violence, and 80 percent favor U.S. withdrawal by 2011. (President Barack Obama's deadline for planned withdrawal of all but a residual force is August 2010.) But tellingly, 64 percent of Iraqis now say democracy is the form of government they favor. And overall? Sixty-five percent of Iraqis say things are going well in their own lives, up from 39 percent in 2007. (In contrast, a recent survey of 25,000 households in New York City found that 51 percent rated their overall quality of life as good or excellent.) And security as "the single biggest problem you are facing in your life these days" has been replaced by the economy. To which most of the rest of the world says, welcome aboard.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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