The citizens of Baghdad face a barrage of hardships, including continued threats to public safety, unpredictable disruptions to electricity, deprivation of basic goods and services, widespread political uncertainty, and severe employment instability. Stability in Iraq is an essential precondition to any favorable ending to the U.S. and British-led occupation.
How, in the face of the daunting obstacles woven into the fabric of their everyday lives, do Baghdadis view their economy and its future prospects? Gallup's survey of Baghdad's citizens, conducted in August and September -- a time when essential goods and services were beginning to be restored and economically vital oil fields were being repaired -- suggests that few Baghdad citizens felt sanguine about economic conditions at that time. However, the data do reveal a remarkable sense of positive momentum and an almost heroic hope for the future.
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very bad and 5 being very good, most respondents characterized economic conditions in the city as "bad." Nearly half of Baghdad's citizens rated economic conditions as a 1 (22%) or a 2 (25%). Although a third (34%) gave a middle rating of 3, few Baghdadis rated economic conditions toward the positive end of the scale -- with 16% rating it a 4 and only 1% giving a 5.
When Baghdadis were probed about whether the economic picture in Baghdad was getting brighter or darker, opinions were more positive. A clear plurality (48%) said that conditions were getting better, 29% said they were getting worse, and another 20% volunteered that things were staying about the same. Citizens' views about Baghdad's economic direction were affected by their own personal economic vantage: Baghdadis who said their family income has increased from what it was before the war were more likely to say conditions are getting better than were those who said their family income had decreased since the war (58% and 38%, respectively).
Among the most remarkable findings were Baghdadis' hopeful views about their own financial situations one year in the future. About 6 in 10 Baghdad citizens (61%) said they expected that they would be better off financially in a year, and only 1 in 10 (11%) anticipated being worse off. Even among low-income Baghdadis, a majority held an optimistic view of their economic futures (53% expecting that they would be better off next year).
Those who live in Iraq's capital city face persistent hardships and hurdles. In the weeks since the Gallup survey was conducted, progress has proved slower than might have been hoped. But in the wake of the terrors and disruption of war and the open question of what their futures will hold, one must credit the residents of Baghdad with remarkable stoicism, and resilient hopefulness in the face of harsh realities.
Although instability and uncertainty linger, Bloomberg News released a hopeful report that Iraq crude oil exports may top $1 billion this month, as repairs continue and security in the oil regions improves. It remains to be seen how quickly such progress will affect the lives of average Iraqis, and whether the optimism expressed by Baghdad residents will be resilient in the face of continued daily threats to public safety and economic and social hardships.