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March 20, 2007

Iraqis Increasingly Pessimistic, Anti-US

by Jim Lobe

Four years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraqis have never been more pessimistic about their lives and antagonistic toward their purported liberators, according to a major new poll [.pdf] released Monday by BBC, ABC News, USA Today, and the German ARD television network.

The survey of some 2,200 people throughout the country found that security has become by far the most important issue for Iraqis in their personal lives, particularly compared to the results of similar surveys in 2004 and 2005.

Nearly two out of three Iraqis said they were concerned "a great deal" that either they or someone living in their household might become a victim of violence in the country, and nearly half (47 percent) said had either a close personal friend of immediate family members living outside their household who had been physically harmed by the violence.

And 40 percent said they blamed most of the violence on U.S. or coalition forces (31 percent) or on U.S. President George W. Bush (nine percent). By contrast, 18 percent blamed al Qaeda or foreign jihadis; 19 percent on Sunni or Shia militias or sectarian conflicts; and seven percent on Iran.

And some 78 percent of respondents said they either "somewhat" (32 percent) or "strongly" opposed the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq – up from 65 percent in BBC poll taken in late 2005, and 51 percent from one conducted in 2004.

In addition, nearly six in 10 respondents (59 percent) said they now believe the U.S. now "controls" events in Iraq, compared to just 24 percent who took that position in 2005, during which two elections were carried out. By contrast, the percentage who said they believed the Iraqi government was in control has dropped from 44 percent two years ago to 34 percent today.

The survey, which was carried out in face-to-face interviews Feb. 25 to March 5, also found a dramatic rise in the percentage of respondents who said they considered attacks on coalition forces to be acceptable – from just 17 percent in 2004 to 51 percent today.

That finding, however, was slightly less than the 60 percent who took that position in a poll released last September by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

By contrast, only 12 percent said attacks on Iraqi governments forces could be considered acceptable, while 88 percent disagreed.

As in the PIPA poll, the survey found major differences in view among Iraqis based on their sectarian or ethnic identities. Thus, the Kurds, who make up between 15 and 20 percent of the national population were the least pessimistic and anti-American among the groups.

By contrast, Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population, were the most pessimistic and anti-American. Shia respondents, who represent about 60 percent of the population fell in between the two.

"Iraqi views appear to be trending generally negatively," said Stephen Weber, who helped design last September's PIPA poll. "The differences between sectarian groups continue to be very sharp," he noted, pointing to respondents' answers to whether or not the U.S.-led coalition was wrong to invade Iraq in 2003.

While nearly four out of five Shia respondents said it was right, only two percent of Sunnis agreed, while 78 percent said it was "absolutely wrong."

The survey confirmed that the citizens of Baghdad and al-Anbar province, the main targets of the Bush's administration's ongoing surge of some 30,000 troops to join the 140,000 already deployed in Iraq, feel the least secure among all Iraqis, with around 80 percent of respondents from the capital and the central region, of which Anbar is a part described the security situation as either "quite" or "very bad." That was more than twice the percentage of the other major regions.

Senior U.S. civilian and military officials, including Bush himself, have claimed over the past two weeks that the "surge" has reduced violence in Baghdad, in particular, although they have also warned that that it will take at least six months more to assess its impact.

"The new strategy will need more time to take effect," Bush said Monday in an address marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion. "And there will be good days and there will be bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds," he added, appealing for the public and Congress here to be patient as Washington's latest counter-insurgency strategy.

Indeed, the latest survey was not completely negative with respect to U.S. efforts in Iraq, although 69 percent said they believed that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq had made security "worse" and 82 percent said they either had "not very much" (30 percent) or "no confidence at all" (52) in U.S. and British occupation forces.

Despite those findings, only 35 percent said they wanted U.S. and coalition forces to "leave now" (up from 26 percent in 2005), while a plurality of 38 percent said they should "remain until security is restored," and 11 percent said they should "remain until Iraqi security forces can operate independently."

Bush could also draw solace from the 56 percent majority who said they believe that Iraq is not involved in a "civil war" at this time and a similar percentage who said they considered a "civil war" either "somewhat" (46 percent) or "very unlikely" (11 percent).

In addition, 47 percent of respondents – the same as in 2005 – said they still believe the U.S. invasion was positive on balance.

In addition, a plurality of 43 percent of Iraqis said they preferred a democratic government to either one led by a "strong leader" (34 percent) or an "Islamic state" (22 percent).

Nonetheless, even that finding showed a marked decline in optimism from 2005 when 57 percent of respondents opted for democracy. Fifty-three percent said they believed that Iraq will still be ruled by a democratic government in five years.

Aside from those findings, however, the overwhelming message of the survey appeared to be one of growing dissatisfaction and pessimism. Only 39 percent of respondents – compared to 71 percent in 2005 – said things were going relatively well in their lives.

Fifty-eight percent said their lives were either about the same (22 percent) or worse (36 percent) compared to the period immediately before the invasion, and two-thirds said things were going worse for the country as a whole (compared to 53 percent in 2005).

Forty percent of respondents said they thought the country would be better off one year from now, a precipitous drop from the 69 percent who felt that way in 2005.

The survey found overwhelming dissatisfaction with the provision of basic services. Seven in 10 respondents rated the availability of medical care and clean water negatively; eight in 10 respondents rated the employment situation and the supplies of fuel for cooking or driving negatively; and nine in 10 described the supply of electricity as bad. Majorities also said they did not expect the situation in each category to improve over the next year.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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