Oct 24, 2007

Iraq, the Surge, Partition, and the War: Public Opinion by City and Region

A new Center for Strategic and International Studies report, Iraq, the Surge, Partition, and the War: Public Opinion by City and Region (70-page pdf), extensively mines polling data to see how well the critical COIN objective of winning the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people -- the war's center of gravity -- is progressing.

The data in this analysis are provided through the courtesy of the ABC News polling unit. They portray the results of a series of polls, the latest of which was carried out by ABC, BBC, and NHK in August 2007, and published in September 2007, and were designed as part of a national poll on Iraq, and not for the regional and urban purposes presented in this analysis. At the same time, the struggles in Iraq today are ultimately battles for the control of power, force, space, and money where Iraqi perceptions are critical in determining the outcome. The US and its Coalition allies cannot force solutions on the Iraqis, nor can it afford to try to fight a military battle that ignores how Iraqis see US and Coalition forces, the success of the Iraqi government, their overall security situation, trends in the economy, or the course of their daily lives.

Most of the results show a deterioration in the situation since the previous poll in March 2007.. Virtually all show the level of violence and civil conflict is higher than most Iraqi and US government sources like to publicly admit. They also show that most Iraqis see the US and Coalition forces as at least a partial threat, do not trust the US or Coalition, and see their aid efforts as failed or non-existent.

Declining Expectations

As security conditions have worsened, so have expectations for future improvement in the conditions of life -- an especially troubling result, since hopes for a better future can be the glue that holds a struggling society together. In 2004 and 2005 alike, for example, Table One shows that three quarters of Iraqis expected improvements in the coming year in their security, schools, availability of jobs, medical care, crime protection, clean water and power supply. Today only about 23 percent still expect better, down from 40% in March 2007.

Figure One puts this analysis in graphic form, and shows the different trends in the expectations of Arab Sunnis, Arab Shi’ites, and Kurds. The most striking difference over time is the decline in the expectations of Iraqi Kurds. The has also been a less precipitous decline in the expectations of the Iraq Arab Shi’ites. The expectations of Iraqi Arab Sunnis have been so low that little change took place during the course of 2007.

But A Continuing Hope for Unity and the Nation

Yet the results do offer hope in one key area. As the bottom section of Table One shows, most Arab Sunnis and Arab Shiites still want a unified country, and those Arab Shiites who do not want a strong central government instead want federalism with a weaker central government. Only the Kurds have a large percentage (49%) that wants independence, and 51% want a strong central government or federalism. Iraqis do not want sectarian separation, and many still identify themselves as Muslims and not as Sunnis or Shi’ites. Iraqis have not given up on the future of Iraq as a nation.


Iraqi Views of the United States Role in Iraq

One key result of the August 2007 poll is that most Iraqis still do not see the US and Coalition forces as allies or liberators, and the US has failed to win the battle for “hearts and minds.” These results are portrayed in far more detail later in this report, but are presented in graphic form in Figure Two, and may be summarized as follows.

Broad National Trends in Perceptions of the US Role in Iraq

Iraqi views of the US role in Iraq are summarized in Figures Two and Three. The poll result found that Iraqis as a whole divided sharply over whether the United States was right (37 percent), or wrong (63 percent) to invade in spring 2003. Once again, however, there were sharp sectarian and ethnic splits within this total. A total 49 percent of Shiites and 71 percent of Kurds polled endorsed the invasion; but 96 percent of Sunni Arabs said it was wrong.

Figure Two shows that a total of 47% of all Iraqis felt US forces should leave Iraqi immediately. This percentage has been steadily rising, from 35% in March 2007 and 26% in November 2005. In contrast, about one third (34%) of Iraqis felt that US and Coalition forces should stay until security is restored.

Other analysis of the polling results showed that nineteen percent of Iraqis polled blamed either US and coalition forces for the current violence in Iraq, and eight percent blamed George W. Bush personally. Al Qa’ida and foreign jihadi fighters were blamed by 21 percent (far more by Shiites and Kurds than by Sunnis). Indeed, one of the top instances of local violence measured in the poll was “unnecessary violence against Iraqi citizens by U.S. or coalition forces.” Forty-one percent of Iraqis -- including 63 percent of Sunni Arabs -- reported such violence as having occurred nearby.

Figure Three shows there was little overall confidence in US forces: Eighty-six percent of the Iraqis polled in August said that they were not confident in US and UK forces -- 91 percent of Shiites as well as 99 percent of Sunni Arabs. (That fell to about half of generally pro-US Kurds.) In spite of allocating $38 billion in development funds (some $33 billion of which were US funds) Reconstruction is another complaint: Nationwide, 72 percent of Iraqis say post-war reconstruction efforts in their area have been ineffective or nonexistent. Sixty-eight percent of Shiites say so; among Sunnis, it’s 89 percent. (Again, attitudes were different in the Kurdish area, where 45 percent call reconstruction effective, down from 70% in March 2007.)

In the first ABC News poll in Iraq, in February 2004, 51 percent of Iraqis opposed the presence of U.S. forces on their soil. By November 2005 that jumped to 65 percent. In February/March 2007, it was 78 percent, and as of August 2007 it was 79%. More than eight in 10 Shiites (as well as 98 percent of Sunni Arabs) opposed the presence of U.S. and other forces in their country. (Kurds, again, differed significantly: 70 percent support the U.S. presence.) More than seven in 10 Shiites – and nearly all Sunni Arabs – thought the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq was making security worse.

Iraqis Who Think It is Acceptable to Attack US Forces

Figures Two and Four show that the poll found that the number of Iraqis who called it “acceptable” to attack U.S. and coalition forces totaled only 17 percent in early 2004, but that the percentage had more than tripled to 57 percent in August 2007. The main source of this antipathy was disaffected Sunni Arabs, the group that lost power with the overthrow of Saddam. Ninety-three percent of Sunni Arabs called attacks on U.S. forces acceptable. That compared with 50 percent of Arab Shiites (still a large number to endorse violence), and only five percent of Kurds, who’re far more favorably inclined toward the United States. Polls taken in 2004 that found attacks on Coalition forces were approved by roughly 63% percent of Sunni Arabs and 11 percent of Shiites.


Iraqi Views of the Iraqi Government

What is less clear is that the decline in popular approval of the Iraqi government shown in Figure Seven will be reversed in the near term. The number of all Iraqis describing the central government as “bad” rose from 53% in March 2007 to 65% in August 2007. This shift was driven by the fact that the number of all Iraqis describing the central government as “very bad” rose from 26% in March 2007 to 38% in August 2007.

What is particularly disturbing about these numbers is the sharp decline in Sunni approval of the government at a time when political accommodation was a critical priority, a decline in Sunni support that probably reflects internal Shi’ite feuding and a continuing lack of government services, and a decline in Kurdish support that other polls show may reflect a growing popular Kurdish desire for independence and feeling that the central government is too pro-Shi’ite. The unfortunate fact is that the Iraqi central government failed to make progress in serving the interests of any key element of the Iraqi population as well as in national accommodation and reconciliation.


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