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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 18:01 GMT
Baghdad's middle classes stay hopeful
By Tim Franks
BBC News, Baghdad

Opinion polling is a difficult enough business in Britain, how much more so in a place like Iraq.

Doctors at al-Yarmouk hospital in western Baghdad
Facilities in Baghdad's hospitals are still poor

It is a dangerous and disparate environment. But I decided to try and canvass the opinions of some Iraqis myself.

It was a small sample in polling terms, just a few of the Baghdad middle-class. But it will be they upon whom the longer term success of this country will depend.

My first port of call was to Mieda Savah an English teacher with a class of 50 ten-year-olds.

Iraqi opinion poll:
Key results of the survey

Crammed into a corner room in the Ahadif primary school, they were studying a text book when I arrived.

The drawing on page 125, by complete coincidence, was of a radio reporter interviewing a bunch of Iraqi children.

Mieda asked her pupils whether they loved Iraq. The children answered:

"Yes, we love Iraq and father Saddam."

Traumatised country

Except that in each of the text books "and father Saddam" has been heavily crossed out.

Before our security was just normal. It was safe to go out. I could go back to my house at 3 o'clock in the morning - no problem. Now, anyone can kill anyone else
Tahid Awoud

The children in this class no longer say the words. Mieda says that is just one reason why life has improved.

Her greatest sadness though is the daily violence.

"Our lives are better now. Only people who are killing every day, it is the worst thing in life.

"The main thing I want is the peace for the people - that's all," she told me.

But before that peace arrives, the sound of gunfire will remain commonplace. Baghdad is still awash with men with guns, primed and suspicious.

Iraqi police in Samawah
Iraqis still face huge hurdles ahead

Tahid Awoud was a policeman before the war. He's back on the beat now and he says it is much scarier.

"Before our security was just normal. It was safe to go out. I could go back to my house at 3 o'clock in the morning - no problem.

"Now, anyone can kill anyone else. There is so much crime; killing, looting; kidnapping; rape."

Over in the Yarmouk hospital I spoke to a doctor who had been in the army until the war.

When he was disbanded, he decided to pursue a career in medicine and is now a student surgeon.

For him life is getting better, but generally all the doctors agreed that the facilities at the hospital had not improved.

Iraqi optimism

Inside their small house, Ali Al Haffi and Sabah Hamdan are rather more cheerful.

Sabah is preparing fruit which she says she couldn't buy before the war; apples from Lebanon, bananas from anywhere.

IRAQI OPINION POLL

They're both doctors. For those like them with jobs, incomes have grown.

But unemployment is still extremely high, with one official estimate putting it at 60%.

It will be a priority for any new Iraqi government.

For Ali and Sabah, although they're both deeply religious, the answer is not a theocracy such as Iran's.

Sabah told me: "In Iraq there are different colours of people - different people. We prefer Islamic government but not like in Iran."

"We have other ideologies, the Iraqi people. There are Shias, Sunni and Kurdish, Tukoman - as we say, this is a rainbow of Iraq", says Ali.

Tuesday's opinion poll suggests that the majority of Iraqis agree and that they share the doctor's optimism.

But perhaps that belief is founded on hope rather than certainty.

Talk to people on the street and in their homes and almost all of them will remind you that this is a deeply traumatised country still facing huge hurdles.




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