Global Policy Forum

82 Percent of Iraqis Oppose US Occupation


By Thomas E. Ricks

Washington Post
May 13, 2004

Four out of five Iraqis report holding a negative view of the U.S. occupation authority and of coalition forces, according to a new poll conducted for the occupation authority. In the poll, 80 percent of Iraqis surveyed reported a lack of confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 82 percent said they disapprove of the United States and allied militaries in Iraq.

Although comparative numbers from previous polls are not available, "generally speaking, the trend is downward," said Donald Hamilton, a senior counselor to civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer. The occupation authority has been commissioning such surveys in Iraq since late last year, he said. This one was taken in Baghdad and several other Iraqi cities in late March and early last month, before the surge in anti-coalition violence and the detainee-abuse scandal.

The findings appeared consistent with a poll taken about the same time by USA Today, CNN and Gallup, which found that 57 percent of Iraqis wanted foreign troops to leave immediately. The new poll, which has not been released publicly, is a concern among occupation authority officials and in Washington, D.C., because the data provide evidence that the U.S. effort is not winning over Iraqi public opinion.

"How to ... win the hearts and minds of the people (in Iraq) is one of the things that we really have to work at," Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Army intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. "I mean, that is the key to solving not only that problem but the rest of the problems in the Middle East."

Hamilton, who said he oversees public-opinion issues for Bremer, declined to provide the number of Iraqis surveyed or other methodological details but said in an e-mail that "polls here are generally reliable" and that the new findings were consistent with those of other polls. The new data reflect the fact that "the occupation, and the occupation forces, are getting increasingly unpopular," said Jeffrey White, a former Middle East affairs analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. "A lot of people, including me, have been getting very pessimistic."

Reflecting that trend, the proportion of Baghdad residents who reported worries about safety has increased steadily: 70 percent named security as the "most urgent issue," up from 50 percent in January, 60 percent in February and 65 percent in March. Overall, 63 percent of those polled said security was the most urgent issue facing Iraq. In addition to Baghdad, the poll was conducted in the northern city of Mosul and the southern cities of Basra, Nasiriyah and Karbala. Some questions were asked in the troubled western Ramadi.

There were a few bright spots. Iraqi police received a 79 percent positive rating, the best of seven institutions about which questions were asked. The reformed Iraqi army was not far behind, with a 61 percent positive rating.

Those polled were broadly divided on who should appoint the interim government that is supposed to take over limited power at the end of next month. The largest group, 27 percent, said the Iraqi people should appoint the new leaders, while 23 percent said judges should. Only one-tenth of 1 percent said that the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council should name the government, which is supposed to run Iraq until elections are held next year. None said the occupation authority should.

Indicating a general skepticism of foreign involvement in their political future, 83 percent of those polled said that only Iraqis should be involved in supervising the 2005 elections.

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