Thursday, March 20, 2008

surge of optimism in iraq

Surge of Optimism A recent poll of Iraqis suggests a more favorable view of Americans, and more importantly, of the structures of democracy.By Richard Nadler National Review Iraqis regard their safety, well-being, and prospects as substantially improved compared to last summer (when the surge was in progress), and last spring (when it was just beginning), according to a newly released poll of 2,228 Iraqis conducted by D3 Systems and KA Research, Ltd. on behalf of a consortium of new organizations, including ABC News and the BBC News.Americans read Iraqi polls in terms of how much “they” like “us.” And in this context, it is pleasing to note that we are uniformly more liked, or less hated, by Iraqis of all regions and sects, according to the consortium’s post-surge survey. But the purpose of American polity in Iraq is not to poll the “Arab street,” but to structure that street so that its opinion matters. A more instructive approach, therefore, focuses on how Iraqis regard the structures of their new democracy.Taken February 12-20, 2008, this was the first major post-surge survey of Iraqis. Its scope and methodology are comparable to polls that the ABC/BBC consortium commissioned in March and August of 2007. Compared to last summer, the percentage of Iraqis who regard their own security as good has risen 19 points, from 43 percent to 62 percent. The percentage of persons who describe their own life as “going well” has risen 16 points, from 39 percent to 55 percent. Sixty-five percent of Iraqis now describe the availability of household necessities as good, compared to 39 percent last summer. In August 2007, Iraqis expecting things to get worse over the next year outnumbered those expecting things to get better by a margin of 39 percent to 29 percent. Since then, civilian casualties have fallen by 60 percent. In the post-surge survey, the optimists out-polled the pessimists, 45 percent to 19 percent.The optimism reported in the survey is particularly impressive given its methodology. The ABC/BBC consortium sample contains 30 percent Sunni Arabs. This “sample” stands in marked contrast to population estimates by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The latter estimates that Sunni Arabs comprise 12 percent to 22 percent of Iraq’s population. The decision to exclude religion and ethnic weighting to a sample of Iraqis that is 30 percent Sunni Arab has put the ABC/BBC survey series at odds with other major Iraq pollsters, notably Oxford Research Group and Opinion Research Business. The decision seems particularly odd, given the fulsome coverage afforded the Sunni refugee crisis by both ABC and BBC — the flight of several million Sunni Arabs to Jordan, Syria, and other nations following the overthrow of Saddam. The result has been a series of ABC/BBC polls substantially more pessimistic than others of equal scope. Sunni Arab tribes controlled most things under the Baathists; Sunni Arabs had the most to lose when the regime was overthrown. They have suffered from the invasion itself, from the inevitable Shiite/Kurd ascendancy, and from the brutal “anti-collaboration” machinations of al-Qaeda. Their polled opinions reflect this experience. An example of the influence of the consortium’s liberal estimate of Sunni Arab population is as follows. The ABC/BBC poll reported last spring that by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin, Iraqis considered attacks on coalition troops “acceptable.” This finding was derived from three components: Sunnis, who “accepted” such attacks by 93 percent to 6 percent; Shiites, who rejected such attacks 65 percent to 35 percent; and Kurds, who opposed anti-coalition violence 93 percent to 7 percent. Only the double-weight of Sunnis in the sample allowed news organizations to report (as many did) that most Iraqis approved anti-coalition violence. In the current survey, Iraqis overall oppose such attacks 57 percent to 42 percent. The percentage of Sunnis who find anti-coalition violence unacceptable has increased from 6 percent to 37 percent. But once again, the double weight given to the 62 percent of Sunnis who continue to approve of anti-coalition violence — at least in the abstract — attenuates the reported improvement in relations between Iraqis and the coalition. Do Iraqis love us? No. The Multi-National Force (MNF) is an army of occupation, and 99 percent of Iraqis polled want it to leave. They just don’t want it to leave anytime soon. Fifty-nine percent of those polled want coalition troops to stay until security is restored, the government is stable, and/or the Iraqi security forces are stronger, while another 4 percent wanted Coalition troops to stay indefinitely. Support for a continued MNF presence increased among both Shiites and Sunnis. There are some specific reasons why Iraqis, who do not love us, want us to hang around: 66 percent want our security assistance “in terms of Turkey”; 68 percent want our security assistance “in terms of Iran”; 73 percent want our help in reconstruction; 76 percent want our help in training and equipping the Iraqi army; and 80 percent want us “participating in security operations against al-Qaeda or foreign Jihadis in Iraq.” The important results of this poll relate not to how Iraqis regard us, but to how they regard the institutions we have mentored, and the reconciliation we are fostering. Here are some of the consortium’s post-surge findings: Attitude toward a “Unified Iraq, with one central government in Baghdad”: 66 percent positive, up 8 percent since last spring; Confidence in Iraqi national army: 65 percent, up 4 percent since last spring; Confidence in Iraqi police: 67 percent, up 3 percent since last spring; Confidence in local militia groups: 22 percent, down 14 percent since last spring; Confidence in the anti-al-Qaeda “Awakening Groups” among Sunni Arabs: 73 percent; Confidence in the anti-al-Qaeda “Awakening Groups” among Shi’ite Arabs: 60 percent; Overall support for allowing former mid- and low-level Baathists to take government jobs: 69 percent, up from 56 percent last spring; Shiite support for allowing former mid- and low-level Baathists to take government jobs: 63 percent, up from 35 percent last spring; Support for the right of previous residents to re-occupy homes expropriated during the insurgency: 88 percent; Opposition to the separation of Iraqis along religious or ethnic lines: 92 percent. In short, cohesion is in, jihad is out; the new institutions are gaining popular support. The Western fascination with the vagaries of the Arab street has been misplaced due to the totalitarian nature of most Middle Eastern societies. The Coalition’s challenge is to create power structures in which the “Arab street” finally matters. This implies the destruction of the masks through which Arab opinion has been filtered in the 20th century: Marxism, pan-Arab nationalism, and jihadism. The end game is not for “us” to help “them,” but for them to effectively help themselves.

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