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Iraq: Signs of Stability in a Volatile Region

Iraq: Signs of Stability in a Volatile Region

by Benedict Vigers and Mohamed Younis

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Iraq’s instability has dominated global headlines for years, but new Gallup data show that Iraqis see their country standing on firmer ground.

Iraqis’ faith in their political and national institutions soared last year, including a record-high 56% who expressed confidence in the national government, which was formed in late 2022 after a year without one.

This figure easily tops any previous measure since 2008, but it also stands out in the Middle East and North Africa region, where trust in national government is rare. Only Iranians (60%) and Jordanians (77%) are more confident than Iraqis are in their national government.


Yet recent regional spillover from the war between Hamas and Israel may test Iraqis’ newfound confidence. The U.S. has responded to Iran-aligned groups’ attacks against U.S. targets with strikes against Iran-backed fighters in western Iraq. The head of the United Nations’ political mission in Iraq recently said that escalating regional violence risks undermining Iraq’s progress toward stability, leaving the country on “a knife edge.”

Majority of Iraqis Approve of Country’s Leadership and Prime Minister

Last year was the first time since 2014 -- when the Islamic State launched an offensive in Iraq and seized large parts of territory, including Mosul -- that a majority (51%) of Iraqis have approved of their country’s leadership.


Iraqis now take a more positive view of their leadership than is found in several other neighboring countries in the Middle East. In 2019 -- at the outset of the Tishreen protests -- the inverse was true: Just 13% of Iraqis approved of their country’s leadership, easily lower than in many neighboring countries in the region.


However, these positive views are not shared across Iraq. Most of the improvement in Iraqis’ ratings of their leadership has come not from Iraqi Kurdistan, where 29% approve of the country’s leadership, but from elsewhere in Iraq, where 55% approve.

Relatively new Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani also earned a strong approval rating (69%) among Iraqis in 2023, the highest Gallup has recorded for any Iraqi leader since it started tracking this measure in 2012. Al-Sudani assumed office in October 2022 after years of anti-government unrest, protests and violence.

Iraqis younger than 30 -- the driving force behind mass protest movements starting in 2019 -- are equally as positive about al-Sudani (68%) as older Iraqis are. Notably, a majority of those living in Iraqi Kurdistan (55%) also approve of al-Sudani’s job performance (compared with 71% in the rest of Iraq).

Despite signs of political stability, long-standing challenges remain in the fabric of the Iraqi state. Eighty-six percent of Iraqis believe corruption is widespread in government -- one of the highest rates in the world. A further three-quarters (76%) believe that elections are not honest in Iraq, demonstrating the long road ahead to greater political legitimacy.

Faith in Key Institutions Also Rises

Iraqis’ faith in key state institutions continued to climb in 2023, reaching new highs or matching previous ones. Iraqis’ confidence in their local police rose to 82% last year, the highest total on record. Support for the military also reached 82%, equaling a previous record high from 2009.

Confidence in the judicial system followed the same trend, albeit at a lower level: 57% of Iraqis had confidence in their judiciary, the highest total in over a decade.


Positive Economic Signals

Iraqis’ rising confidence in the apparatus of the state is matched by their views on the economy. In 2023, half of Iraqis felt that their local economy was getting better, compared with 32% who felt it was getting worse (18-point net optimistic). Overall, this is as optimistic as Iraqis have been about the trajectory of their local economy since Gallup started tracking this measure in 2013.


Positive signs are also coming from the job market: 39% think it is a good time to find a job. Even though 59% think it is a bad time, this is still the most positive Iraqis have been about their job prospects in a decade.

There are, however, significant regional differences in economic perceptions. Those living in Iraqi Kurdistan (24%) are less than half as likely as those in the rest of Iraq (55%) to believe the economy is getting better. Iraqi Kurdistan is also significantly less positive about the local job market (23% good time) than the rest of Iraq (42% good time).

With two in five Iraqis struggling to afford food (39%) and shelter (40%), and the International Monetary Fund projecting a slowdown in Iraq’s GDP growth in 2024 due to oil production cuts -- on which the economy is heavily reliant -- there is still considerable room for improvement in Iraqis’ economic perceptions.

Bottom Line

As the 21st anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq approaches, after years of conflict and civil war, Iraqis’ own perceptions paint a more positive picture than Gallup has captured since it started polling Iraq in 2006.

Many of the aspirations laid out by those who advanced the Iraq War policy -- encouraging Iraqi democracy, sparking economic opportunity and empowering local governance -- seem now to be enjoyed by more and more Iraqis.

However, not all Iraqis -- particularly those in Iraqi Kurdistan -- see their reality in the same way. These differences, alongside escalating tensions in the region and long-standing domestic challenges, act as reminders of how fragile the path to greater stability can be.

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