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April 30, 2004

Iraqis Say: 'US Out Now!'

by Juan Cole

From March 22 to April 2, 60 trained Iraqi pollsters interviewed 3,444 randomly selected Iraqis for USA Today. This is one of the first polls in Iraq that seems to me well weighted statistically, though to be sure we'd have to know more than USA Today told us.

The numbers are negative for the US, and are much more negative than previous such polls. Moreover, the polling ended by April 2, just before the Shiite uprising and the worst of the Fallujah fighting, so that it is highly likely that the present attitudes of the Iraqi public toward the US are much more negative.

Amazingly, 57% of Iraqis say that US troops should leave Iraq immediately. If one subtracted the Kurds, a much higher percentage of Arabic speaking Iraqis say this. And, they say it with their eyes open. About 57% also admit that life would get harder (i.e. there would be a lot of instability) if the US suddenly withdrew. They want the US gone anyway, and will take their chances.

Over half say there are circumstances under which it is all right to attack US troops! A February poll I discussed here had said that only 10% of Iraqi Shiites held that attacks on US troops were ever justified, and 30% of Sunni Arabs felt that way. The number in al-Anbar province (think Fallujah) was 70%, but it was high for Iraq at that time. Again, if the earlier polling was correct, there was a massive shift in opinion on this matter. We went from having about 3 million Iraqis think it was all right to attack US troops to more than 13 million.

[My earlier comment on the Feb. poll: "That is, the poll actually shows that in absolute numbers, there are more Shiites who approve of attacks on Americans than there are Sunni Arabs. The numbers bring into question the official line that there are no problems in the South, only in the Sunni Arab heartland. The other problem is that attitudes change, and sometimes they change rapidly. The US cannot count on the percentage of Shiites who approve of attacks on its troops remaining at 10% if it is strafing Sadr City in Baghdad. Every 1% increase in the number of Shiites who approve of attacks equals 160,000 new enemies.").

For the question, "Has the Coalition invasion of Iraq done more harm than good?", in the USA Today poll 46% say "more harm," whereas only 33% say "more good." But the ethnic breakdown here is startling. Only 2% of Kurds say the invasion did more harm. 56% of Sunni Arabs say it did more harm, and so do 59% of Baghdadis (Baghdad is about 2/5s Shiite but the Shiites there are probably Sadrists in the majority, who agree with most Sunnis about the undesirability of the US presence). Among Shiites, 47% say it did more harm, 28% say it did more good.

More harm: Total 45%, Baghdad 59%, Shiite 47%, Sunni Arab 56%, Kurds 2%

More good: Total 33%

About the Same: Total 16%

To the question of whether coalition military forces are mainly liberators or mainly occupiers, 71% said occupiers. The percentage among Arabs, both Sunni and Shiite, who said this, was about 80%. The Kurds mostly disagreed, which brought the numbers down. (The US never put that many troops in the Kurdish north, depending on the peshmerga fighters, so the Kurds are in fact much less occupied than the Arabs).

An opinion poll done by an Iraqi institute a couple of months ago found that about 47% of Iraqis said that the US invasion was a source of humiliation, and 48% said it was a liberation. If that poll was valid, it means that there was a massive shift in opinion by late March and a big growth in anti-Americanism. Based on my close reading of the Iraqi press and reports of sermons, I believe that the Israeli murder of Hamas clerical leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on March 22 was the turning point in the big spike in anti-American feeling. There were lots of demonstrations that the Western press did not cover, and a lot of oratory.

Regarding George Bush, 55% of Iraqis have an unfavorable view of him, and if we exclude the 4 million Kurds and just look at the Arabs, his unfavorable rating is above 60% for both Sunnis and Shiites. Since Iraq is now for all practical purposes the 51st state, I say we let the Iraqis vote in the US elections in November.

Oddly, 61% of Iraqis still say that the US invasion and overthrow of Saddam was worth it (though only 28% of Sunni Arabs say it was worth it). That is, the poll does not show that Iraqis have begun regretting the US overthrow of Sadam. It shows that they have begun regretting the continued US Occupation.

And, the bad news is that despite the ballyhooed transfer of sovereignty on June 30, the actual US occupation is likely to last for a decade unless Iraqis throw the US out. And given their present mood, one should not dismiss the possibility that that is what they will do.

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    Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Visit his blog.


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