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US electorate's oversight: Iraqi opinions as to their condition and their perceptions of US/Coalition occupation


A review of Iraqi opinions as to their condition and their perceptions of US/Coalition occupation was merited as it is this writer's opinion that our position in an Iraqi hearts and minds campaign is perilous yet those opinions are remote from what is generally reported in the US high street press.

Having last covered Iraqi opinion surveys in May 2005 in Tribal and religious impacts among Iraqi and foreign Muslim elements, continued which reached back to a CSIS poll and its update, and an ICRSS poll of June 2004, the driver for this review of 2003-2005 polls was a secret UK Ministry of Defence poll executed nationally by an "Iraqi university research team [in August 2005] that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces." Shattering any illusion of a successful hearts and minds campaign, the poll's most arresting conclusion was that "up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks" against British forces and that less "than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security":

The report profiles those likely to carry out attacks against British and American troops as being "less than 26 years of age, more likely to want a job, more likely to have been looking for work in the last four weeks and less likely to have enough money even for their basic needs".

The Tory shadow defence minister, Andrew Robathan, said that "the poll clearly showed a complete failure of [UK] Government policy." Other points from the poll:

  • 45% of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified, up to 65% in British-controlled Maysan province and down to 25% in Basra
  • 82% are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops
  • Less than one % believe coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security
  • 67% feel less secure because of the occupation
  • 43% believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened
  • 72% do not have confidence in the multi-national forces

Responses on infrastructure reconstruction were no better:

  • 71% rarely get safe clean water
  • 47% never have enough electricity
  • 70% say their sewerage system rarely works
  • 40% of southern Iraqis are unemployed

One of the few Iraqi polls to gain lay coverage in the UK and US, it comes as little surprise to seasoned poll watchers. As this UK poll has not been formally released, unlike other polls over a three year period, we do not know sample size and demographics, exact dates and precise questions, but comparison to other polls show remarkable continuity. As Juan Cole noted, an April 2004 USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll showed similar results - and it was taken before the fighting in Fallujah and Najaf between insurgents and US forces. The question was:

To what extent can you personally justify the following actions morally: can be completely justified; can be somewhat justified, can be justified sometimes, sometimes cannot; somewhat cannot be justified; cannot be justified at all:

A. U.S.-British military action in Iraq
B. Current attacks against US forces in Iraq
C. Attacks and bombings targeting Iraqi police

Back to Cole: Then, 57 percent of Iraqis wanted coalition troops out immediately, and about half said that there were circumstances in which it was legitimate to attack US troops. Attitudes now are more negative, but the attitudes revealed in the British Ministry of Defense poll have been there for some time on about the same orders of magnitude.

Let's walk from 2003 forward, keeping in mind Ackerman's caveat that caution should be attached to "Iraqi polling [that] occurs in a climate of chaos, so its results should be understood as impressionistic rather than precise."

The last poll that was modestly favorable to US forces (then the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)) was an October 2003 Department of State Office of Research opinion analysis, Iraqi Public Has Wide Future Political System, which commissioned the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (ICRSS) - a group approved by the CPA - in Baghdad to carry out the fieldwork. ICRSS polls, pro and con, have gravitas as they were led by now Minister of Defense, Sadoon al-Dulaimi, a Sunni native of Ramadi, a former officer in Hussein's General Security Directorate, fled to the UK where he earned a PhD in socio-psychology, joined the Iraqi opposition, returning to Iraq to run ICRSS in 2003. Much of the ICRSS polls have shown "Iraqis' unfavorable views of the U.S. presence in their country."

On 5 April, 2004, the AP reported out a poll conducted by Oxford Research International as Poll: Most Iraq Shia Arabs Oppose Attacks which allows the casual observer to think things are going well, but Juan Cole dug deeper:

An opinion pole taken in late February showed that 10 % of Iraq's Shiites say attacks on US troops are "acceptable." But 30% of Sunni Arabs say such attacks are acceptable, and fully 70% of Anbar province approves of attacking Americans. (Anbar is where Ramadi, Fallujah, Hadithah and Habbaniyah are, with a population of 1.25 million or 5% of Iraq--those who approve of attacks are 875,000).

Given that Iraq's 25 million people are 65% Shiites and 16% Sunni, the number of those who dislike Americans enough to approve of attacks are 2.8 million, with Shiites leading in absolute numbers by virtue of their numbers. That is substantive support from which Baathists, jihadists, nationalists and religious actors can draw upon for their attacks.

By April-May 2004, ICRSS polls such as Results of Public Opinion Poll #3 were summarized as:

Outside of officialdom, there is little appetite for allowing Americans to stay. Anyone still talking about liberation is shushed as disingenuous, especially now that the image of a Saddam Hussein statue crashing to the ground is no longer symbolic of the coalition's intentions. Instead, many Iraqis said, today's American presence is best summed up in photos of a laughing female American soldier leading a nude Iraqi prisoner by a dog leash.

[Dulaimi's] grim poll doesn't even take in the prisoner scandal's effects. It was conducted in mid-April in seven Iraqi cities [and had not been made public as of this article]. [Dulaimi stated that] prisoner abuse and other coalition missteps now are fueling a dangerous blend of Islamism and tribalism. For example, while American officials insist that only fringe elements support the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, a majority of Iraqis crossed ethnic and sectarian lines to name him the second most-respected man in Iraq, according to the coalition-funded poll. [Dulaimi said] "I don't know why the (Coalition Provisional Authority) continues in these misguided decisions… But if they pack and leave, it's a disgrace for us as Iraqis and for them as Americans. Their reputation will be destroyed in the world, and we will be delivered to the fanatics."

Conetta's May 2005 Vicious Circle: The Dynamics of Occupation and Resistance in Iraq from the Project on Defense Alternatives has not gotten enough attention in my estimation as Conetta deals with drivers of popular oppositional sentiment, variations in public opinion by region and community, coercive occupation practices, presence and behavior of foreign forces, opposition by Sunni and Shia sects, patterns of Coalition activity during and after "major" combat operations. There is thoughtful poll analysis and copious footnoting.

Opposition sentiment is driven by:

  • A typical nationalist or patriotic response to foreign control, amplified by differences of culture, religion, and language; and
  • A reaction to the coercive practices of the occupation, including military, policing, and penal operations.

Conetta's opinion is that the insurgency "is now driven substantially by the occupation, its practices, and policies" and that results of repeated polling of Iraqi attitudes have been ignored in the US "public discourse on the Iraqi mission" such that it "imperils US policy. His analysis is that:

  • On balance, Iraqis oppose the US presence in Iraq, and those who strongly oppose it greatly outnumber those who strongly support it.
  • US troops in Iraq are viewed broadly as an occupying force, not peacekeepers or liberators.
  • On balance, Iraqis do not trust US troops, think they have behaved badly, and -- one way or another -- hold them responsible for much of the violence in the nation.
  • There is significant popular support for attacks on US forces, and this support probably grew larger during the course of 2004, at least among Sunni Arabs.
  • A majority of Iraqis want coalition forces to leave within a year or less. Formation of a permanent government early in 2006 is the "tipping point" after which a very large majority of Iraqis may desire immediate withdrawal.

Part 2

Iraq Index
Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq
Michael E. O’Hanlon and Nina Kamp
Brookings Institution
Updated October 27, 2005
For full source information for entries other than the current month, please see the Iraq Index archives

Secret MoD poll: Iraqis support attacks on British troops
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 23/10/2005)
Telegraph (UK)

Business Leader Attitudes Toward Commercial Activity, Employee Relations, and Government in Iraq
By The Center for International Private Enterprise & Zogby International
Fall 2005

Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey
The Lancet, Volume 364, Issue 9448, Pages 1857-1864
L. Roberts, R. Lafta, R. Garfield, J. Khudhairi, G. Burnham
19 November 2004
Related background material

Scientists: 100,000 Iraqis have died since war
October 29, 2004 - 2:24PM

Vicious Circle: The Dynamics of Occupation and Resistance in Iraq
Part One. Patterns of Popular Discontent
Project on Defense Alternatives Research Monograph #10
Carl Conetta
Project on Defense Alternatives
18 May 2005

Iraq: Recent Developments in Reconstruction Assistance
Curt Tarnoff
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service
CRS RL31833
Updated May 12, 2005

Progress Or Peril? Measuring Iraq’s Reconstruction
Frederick Barton, Bathsheba Crocker
September 2004
No longer on CSIS site but mirrored
here, here, and here

Progress Or Peril? Measuring Iraq’s Reconstruction
Frederick Barton, Bathsheba Crocker
Iraq Update, August-October 2004
No longer on CSIS site but mirrored here

Public Opinion in Iraq: First Poll Following Abu Ghraib Revelations
Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies (IIACSS)
15 June 2004

80% of Iraqis want US to stop patrolling cities
Jonathan Steele in Baghdad
June 29, 2004

Why Iyad Al Alawi?
Al Jazeera
6/7/2004 7:07:00 AM GMT

The Results Of the Public Opinion Poll in Iraq
The Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (ICRSS)
June 2004

Iraqis Report Deepening Doubts About Legitimacy of the US-led Occupation
by Hannah Allam
May 9, 2004
has scrolled off
Google cache
Mirror here

Poll: Iraqis out of patience
By Cesar G. Soriano and Steven Komarow
Posted 4/28/2004 3:32 PM
Updated 4/30/2004 6:54 AM

Nearly 3 Million Iraqis, Sunni and Shiite, Approve of attacks on Americans
Juan Cole
Informed Comment
April 6, 2004

Poll: Most Iraq Shia Arabs Oppose Attacks
Associated Press
Posted on Mon, Apr. 05, 2004
Original scrolled off
Google cache

Results of Public Opinion Poll #3
The Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (ICRSS)
23 October, 2003

Iraqi Public Has Wide Future Political System
Opinion Analysis
Office of Research
Department of State
(DoS commissioned ICRSS (approved by the CPA) in Baghdad to carry out the fieldwork)
October 21, 2003

Gordon Housworth

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