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Not the Neocon vision of Iraqi democracy and civil society

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I am most curious as to the veracity of a July-August 2004 survey on Iraqi political attitudes, i.e., I am not contesting the honesty of the interviewers but their ability to craft a legitimate cross cultural survey that a foreign and Iraqi poller can ask of Iraqi citizens sensitized to the powers of the state, wary of the possibility of reprisal, and who might presumably know the desired answer (such as how good is Allawi doing -- and who wants to speak poorly of a former Ba’athist strongman).

While it is commendable that interviews were conducted across all 18 governorates of Iraq, I am astonished that the surveyors could, in a Muslim country that is essentially patriarchal, reach a near male-female balance of respondents -- and of which "housewives" accounted for more than a third of total respondents. In a country where merely looking at a woman in her home is a travesty, much less interviewing her without a male present, would be a remarkable accomplishment.

The survey was carried out by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Independent Institute for Administrative and Civil Society Studies (IACSS), an indigenous Iraqi polling firm. The IRI is an NPO founded in 1983 after Ronald Reagan's 1982 Westminster speech noting that "we must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings." I think that it is fair to say that IRI now draws a more narrow interpretation of its mission as a Republican, rather than a Democratic, prerogative.

I would be interested in the weighting that was said to be necessary to "more accurately breakdown poll results by governorate, religion and ethnic group" as well as the calculus of the margin of error.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, OpinionJournal.com, would have readers believe that "the people of Iraq are already looking forward to the opportunity of electing their own government [that more] than 77% of respondents feel that "regular, fair elections" would be the most important political right for the Iraqi people and 58% feel that democracy in Iraq is likely to succeed [and] above 75% felt that the elections would reflect the will of the Iraqi people."

Taking my own turn at divining the entrails of the Iraqi goat, factored by my own experience in the Middle East, I see a very different response, a polity at odds with a Neocon vision:

Form of government

  • An overwhelming majority, some 70 %, want Islam and the Shari’a code as "the sole basis for all laws and legislation" in a new constitution, and want to "ensure the Islamic identity of Iraq."
  • Religious and patriotic top the kinds of political parties that respondents wish to support. Desirable candidates should be pragmatic, traditional, and definitely religious.
  • They want one party -- which they had for thirty years before the second Gulf War -- and its near second is a few parties.
  • A strong Baghdadi central government leads a Baghdadi government comprising regional, tribal, and sectarian representatives. Both dwarf any delegation of powers. Kurds take note.
  • Religious persons, university professors, and party leaders are the predominate choices for candidates. Dissidents against the regime and former exiles get short shrift.
  • Current political parties (about a hundred now) are divisive, represent too narrow a spectrum, have too many points of disagreement, and should form coalitions.

Civil society

  • The respondents understandably want order and stability in which the four most personal, critical issues are crime, unemployment, infrastructure, and CF/CNF (coalition forces). All four precede terrorism. Corruption and federalism, interestingly, are at the bottom.
  • Infrastructure rebuilding is very personal: in order, electricity, potable water, sanitation, roads, and oil transport. "Large public works programs" are the desired mechanism, not private enterprise.
  • The leanings of the respondents are decidedly "socialist" in their feeling that the government is overwhelmingly responsible (three to one) for citizens’ welfare. While wealth is "the right of every person" and the state "must protect that right" there is an equal or larger sector that overwhelmingly feel that it s the role of the State to create that wealth and to "fairly and equally divided among the public by the State."

Frontline states

  • Frontline states have a negative influence on Iraqi politics, with Syria the most balanced followed by Jordan. Iran, Kuwait, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have the most negative effect.

Noted in passing

  • TV's lock as an information mechanism is reflected in TV ads dwarfing all other means of the preferred choice for a political party to contact citizen. The power of al Jazeera will rise whereas the US sponsored al Hurra will stall.
  • An overwhelming majority of respondents would not donate money to help a party or candidate that they supported.

I suspect that this is not the democracy that the Administration and Neocons had in mind. If the security situation continues to deteriorate, I would expect democracy as we know it to recede as Iraqis look to anyone who can wrest back stability.

Political Attitudes Survey of the Iraqi Electorate
IRI & IIACSS
July 24
August 2, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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