Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Iraqis Have Mixed Views Of Their Country After U.S. Withdrawal


In November 2011, the Zogby Research Services released a new public opinion poll that in part, focused upon Iraqis’ views of their country before and after the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2011. It found that people held very mixed feelings about what would happen after the American troops left. Most already believed that their country was not going in the right direction, and were worried about how the pulling out of American forces would affect that situation. At the same time, they expressed some optimism about their future.

Zogby’s survey tried to cover each region and group within the country. It questioned 1,000 people in September 2011, in ten of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, covering Baghdad, Babil, and Anbar in the center, Sulaymaniya, Irbil, Ninewa and Diyala in the north, and Basra, Dhi Qar, and Najaf in the south. 85% were Arabs, 14% were Kurdish, while 61% were Shiite, 38% were Sunni, and 1% were Christian. The point of the poll was determine people’s thoughts on the Iraq war, and the future of the country.

Most respondents did not feel good about how Iraq was doing at present. When asked were they satisfied with the pace of change in the government 55% said no, with only 39% saying yes. 56% thought that Iraq was going in the wrong direction, compared to 31% who thought that it was going on the right track. That placed more than 50% of those questioned feeling uneasy about the state of their country. That was probably the result of the on-going disputes between the ruling parties, namely Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law and Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement. Both have been bickering with each other since the March 2010 parliamentary elections, and that has held up any major legislation being passed or improvements in services.

Are you satisfied/not satisfied with pace of change in government?
Satisfied
39%
Not satisfied
53%
Is Iraq on the right or wrong track?
Right track
31%
Wrong track
56%

Iraqis were then asked about the affects of the U.S. invasion with only the Kurds feeling positive about it. Overall, only 30% of those questioned believed that Iraq was better off at present than before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. 42% thought it was worse, 23% thought that Iraq was the same, and 6% were not sure. Shiites at 46% and Sunnis at 55% fueled the negative feelings about the invasion. Only the Kurds, at 60% believed that getting rid of the old regime had made their situation better. At the same time, roughly a quarter, 24% of both Shiites and Sunnis, along with 14% of Kurds said that things were relatively the same. The violence, civil war, occupation, and deterioration of services, were likely behind the bad views of the impact of the 2003 invasion.

Are Iraqis better or worse off today compared to before 2003 invasion?

Overall
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Better
30%
29%
15%
60%
Worse
42%
46%
55%
4%
Same
23%
24%
24%
14%
Not
Sure
6%
1%
7%
22%

Few felt that the 2007 U.S. Surge changed Iraq either. 43% of Iraqis said that things were the same in the country, 34% said things were better, and 16% answered that it was worse. Again, Shiites, 44%, and Sunnis, 48%, largely shared the same view. The  Kurds were the opposite with 50% saying things were better, only 3% said Iraq was worse, and 25% answered that the Surge had not changed the country. In the United States, the Surge is widely hailed as saving Iraq from its civil war, but that opinion is obviously not shared with the majority of Iraqis in this poll.

Is Iraq better or worse off today compared to before the Surge?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Better
34%
38%
15%
50%
Worse
16%
13%
30%
3%
Same
43%
44%
48%
25%

Of nine major topics in Iraqi society, not one of them were considered better off since the 2003 invasion. On political freedom, 33% thought it was better, 48% worse, and 16% said unchanged. Again, Shiites, 30%, and Sunnis, 29% were congruent in their negative feelings, while the Kurds held the opposite with 53% saying things were better. When asked about the economy, 17% responded positively, 66% negatively, and 13% said that it was unchanged. Only 14% of Shiites and 4% of Sunnis, compared to 52% of Kurds thought that development had improved since 2003. With education, a plurality of 47% thought it was worse off, 25% thought it was better, and 20% said the invasion had no affect. Health care had more evenly distributed views with 20% thinking it was better, 28% worse, and 28% unchanged. Security and government by far had the lowest responses with only 18% and 16% respectively saying that it was better. 54% thought Iraq’s relations with its neighbors had deteriorated since 2003, while Iraqis were split on women’s rights, 26% positive, 37% negative, and religious freedom, 39% positive, 36% negative. As usual, in almost every category the Kurds thought that 2003 opened up new opportunities for them. 52% thought the economy was better, 71% said education was improved, and 90% answered that security was positive. The only question that had divergence from that pattern was on religious freedom where 47% of Shiites answered positively. Obviously, with the Kurds officially gaining their own region, which has its own security forces, schools, regional government, etc. they are feeling better about their situation compared to under Saddam when they were under constant threat. The Sunnis, having lost power with Saddam and the civil war of 2005-2008 are understandably bitter about their current situation, while the Shiites also share the negative affects of the war, except on religion where they are finally able to openly practice their ceremonies and observances, most of which were banned under the former regime.

Since the U.S. invasion how has political freedom been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
33%
30%
29%
53%
Negative
48%
53%
54%
12%
None
16%
15%
14%
20%
Since the U.S. invasion how has economic development been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
17%
14%
4%
52%
Negative
66%
74%
80%
7%
None
13%
10%
10%
30%
Since the U.S. invasion how has education been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
25%
20%
12%
71%
Negative
47%
53%
58%
1%
None
20%
23%
23%
16%
Since the U.S. invasion how has health care been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
20%
18%
9%
46%
Negative
28%
49%
63%
23%
None
28%
29%
25%
25%
Since the U.S. invasion how has security been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
18%
7%
1%
90%
Negative
72%
81%
88%
6%
None
8%
10%
9%
2%
Since the U.S. invasion how has the government been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
16%
14%
3%
48%
Negative
59%
64%
69%
22%
None
17%
18%
18%
22%
Since the U.S. invasion how have relations with neighboring countries been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
21%
12%
4%
87%
Negative
54%
55%
77%
5%
None
19%
25%
14%
5%
Since the U.S. invasion how have women’s rights been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
26%
28%
9%
48%
Negative
37%
41%
42%
17%
None
26%
25%
34%
10%
Since the U.S. invasion how has religious freedom been changed?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
39%
47%
24%
36%
Negative
36%
35%
47%
20%
None
14%
12%
17%
16%

The next question was on who benefited the most from the Iraq War. People could pick two answers, and were very observant when they did so. Iran, 54%, the United States, 48%, and Iraqi elites, 40%, got the highest responses. Only 4% believed the Iraqi people gained from the war. Iran got rid of its arch rival in Saddam Hussein, the United States felt that a constant threat to the Middle East was removed, and Iraq’s new leaders all came to power because of the American invasion, and are now enriching themselves as a result. It should come as no surprise then, that Iraqis believed those three were the winners.

Who benefited the most from the Iraq war?
(Could pick two answers)
Iran
54%
U.S.
48%
Iraqi elites
40%
Al Qaeda
27%
Israel
18%
Turkey
6%
Saudis
4%
Iraqi
People
4%

Iraqis were next asked about the U.S. withdrawal, and had mixed feelings. 60% said that the Americans pulling out of the country was good, 30% said it was negative, and 10% were unsure. 68% of Shiites had a positive response, with a plurality of Sunnis, 48%, and Kurds, 45%, having the same view. When asked what emotion they had about the event, 22% said they were happy, 35% were worried, and 30% were both. The most worried were Sunnis at 45%, and the most happy were the Shiites at 26%. This showed the divergent opinions Iraqis had about the December 2011 withdrawal date. A majority wanted the U.S. to leave, but were apprehensive about what would happen next.

Is the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq good or bad?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Positive
60%
68%
48%
45%
Negative
30%
24%
39%
35%
Not sure
10%
7%
11%
20%
What emotion do you feel about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Happiness
22%
26%
14%
20%
Worry
35%
29%
45%
37%
Both
30%
32%
31%
20%

People’s concerns about a post-U.S. Iraq were elaborated upon when asked about specific issues. 65% were concerned about a civil war, 60% were worried that the country would split apart, 58% worried about terrorism, 57% thought that the economy could fall apart, 47% thought they might lose religious freedom, and 60% responded that another country could dominate Iraq. It seemed like all respondents were afraid that Iraq would suffer on a number of important fronts once the Americans left. The current political paralysis within the government, and the mass casualty attacks that Al Qaeda in Iraq were able to pull off in December and January must be fueling these apprehensions.

How concerned are you about the following issues once the U.S. withdraws from Iraq?

Concerned
Not Concerned
Civil War
65%
20%
Iraq Will Split
60%
21%
Terrorism
58%
19%
Economic Deterioration
57%
19%
Lose Religious Freedom
47%
24%
Domination by another country
60%
30%

Because of Iraqis’ worries, they were open to the United States sending troops back into the country, should it deteriorate. If Baghdad asked for the Americans to return, 10% said they should be allowed to stay for 1 year, 47% said they should take as long as needed, while only 29% refused to consider any kind of extension being offered to Washington. An earlier poll from 2010 found similar results. These feelings were not mirrored by Iraq’s political parties, with only the Kurdish Coalition willing to openly call for the U.S. to stay in Iraq.

Should the U.S. forces stay one more year, as long as possible or leave as soon as possible if Iraqi government asked?
Iraq
Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
1 year
10%
9%
9%
19%
As long as needed
47%
42%
56%
51%
Leave ASAP
29%
34%
24%
20%

Iraqis did not have that many favorable views of their neighbors or the United States. 67% had unfavorable views of the United States, followed by 66% with that opinion of Iran, and 48% not looking good at Saudi Arabia and Turkey. A slight plurality, 46% had a good view of China, and only the United Arab Emirates had a positive view at 65%. When asked which countries would have a positive or negative affect upon Iraq after the U.S. left, the opinions were more mixed. Jordan had the most positive results at 44%, followed by Turkey, 38%, Saudi Arabia, 37%, and Qatar 36%. Syria, 28%, Iran, 20%, and Kuwait, 16%, were at the bottom. For Shiites, Turkey had the best response at 44% thinking it would have a positive affect. For Sunnis, 59%, and Kurds, 82%, it was Saudi Arabia. Despite fears that Iraq will be dominated by Iran after the U.S. withdrawal, because both are Shiite countries, 51% of Shiite respondents felt that Tehran would be a negative influence on Iraq. That was only topped by Kuwait for Shiites at 55%, an opinion shared by Sunnis at 68% since Baghdad still has to pay reparations to that country for the 1990 invasion.

Attitude towards following countries? Favorable/Unfavorable

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
U.S.
26%/67%
25%/68%
7%/88%
63%/37%
Saudis
39%/48%
30%/62%
59%/26%
49%/51%
Iran
26%/66%
41%/52%
2%/90%
5%/83%
Turkey
43%/48%
53%/40%
40%/47%
5%/81%
UAE
65%/29%
58%/36%
67%/25%
88%/8%
China
46%/43%
45%/46%
36%/43%
71%/25%
After the U.S. leaves will these countries play positive/negative role in Iraq? Positive/Negative/None

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Jordan
44%/17%/27%
36%/24%/31%
54%/8%/23%
58%/4%/15%
Turkey
38%/31%/22%
44%/27%/21%
42%/17%/28%
5%/73%/13%
Saudi Arabia
37%/29%/23%
16%/44%/30%
59%/8%/17%
82%/7%/9%
Qatar
36%/14%/39%
22%/20%/47%
49%/6%/33%
72%/5%/14%
Syria
28%/25%/30%
22%/34%/31%
40%/12%/28%
33%/8%/32%
Iran
20%/67%/8%
33%/51%/10%
1%/87%/6%
4%/92%/2%
Kuwait
16%/54%/21%
22%/55%/19%
3%/68%/22%
14%/30%/26%

When asked about what influence the U.S. would have in Iraq in the future, interference got the highest response. 33% of Iraqis, made up of 31% of Shiites, 51% of Sunnis, and 20% of Kurds answered that way. After that views were really split with 15% thinking that the U.S. would have a special relationship with Iraq, 14% feeling that Washington would help with security, 13% said the two would have a normal relationship, 12% said the U.S. would invest, and 11% said no role.

What role will the U.S. play in Iraq in the future?

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Investor
12%
13%
5%
18%
Security
14%
13%
9%
27%
Special alliance
15%
17%
11%
14%
Interference
33%
31%
51%
20%
Normal relationship
13%
16%
11%
5%
No role
11%
10%
12%
15%

The divided opinions of Iraqis was again shown when they were asked about how they felt about the future of Iraq. 55% said they were very to somewhat optimistic, compared to 31% who said they were somewhat to very pessimistic. This seemed to completely contradict the earlier responses when 56% said they thought Iraq was on the wrong track, and 57%-60% were worried about the economy collapsing, terrorism, civil war, the country splitting apart, etc. Perhaps they felt that there would be immediate problems facing the country after the U.S. withdrawal, but in the long-term they wanted their country to do better.

Iraqis’ feelings about stability and progress in the future of the country

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Very optimistic
9%
10%
2%
20%
Somewhat optimistic
46%
59%
27%
32%
Somewhat pessimistic
23%
17%
34%
22%
Very pessimistic
8%
3%
18%
9%

The economy, terrorism, and corruption were considered the most important issues facing Iraq currently. Iraqis were given eleven possible responses, and asked to rank them in order of importance. Creating jobs came out on top, followed by fighting terrorism, ending corruption, improving education, reforming the government, protecting personal freedoms, improving health care, advancing democracy, increasing women’s rights, a lack of debate about important issues, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came last. In previous opinion polls, Iraqis showed that they consider the economy the leading issue facing the country, with security second. That contradicts the impression the international press might portray about Iraq with the constant emphasis upon the latest bombing. Corruption is also a pressing matter as Iraqis have to pay bribes for nearly any service from the government, and officials are routinely accused of stealing public funds.

Most important issues to Iraqis in order
1
Expanding jobs opportunities
2
Fighting terrorism
3
Ending corruption/nepotism
4
Improving education
5
Reforming government
6
Protecting personal rights
7
Improving health care
8
Advancing democracy
9
Increasing women’s rights
10
Lack of debate on important issues
11
Resolving Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Iraqis had divided opinions about their government. 21% said they wanted a democracy, and that it could work. 41% said that democracy was good, but thought it would fail. 20% responded that they did not like democracy, because they did not think it would work, while 5% said democracy was not a good form of government. The opinion that democracy would fail in Iraq had the most responses amongst Shiites, 44%, Sunnis, 38%, and Kurds, 35%.  The government paralysis that has beset Baghdad since the United States returned sovereignty in 2005 is probably the cause of these pessimistic views of the democratic process.

Iraqis’ opinion of democracy

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Want democracy and it to work
21%
23%
12%
23%
Want democracy but won’t work
41%
44%
38%
35%
Don’t want democracy because it won’t work
20%
19%
27%
14%
Don’t want democracy because it is not good type of government
5%
5%
9%
-
None/Not sure
13%
10%
14%
27%

Last, Iraqis were asked about five major political leaders, and not one of them got a favorable response. 37% liked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and 57% disapproved. 40% had a favorable view of Iyad Allawi, compared to 50% with a negative view. 38% liked Moqtada al-Sadr, and 50% disliked him. At the bottom were Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council with a 26% approval rating, and 64% not approving, and 23% liking President Jalal Talabani, and 69% disliking him. Sadr at 59% and Maliki at 51% got the highest responses from Shiites, Sunnis approved of Allawi by far at 69%, while Talabani, 57%, and Allawi, 49%, got the most favorable opinions from Kurds. The fact that Allawi and Maliki were nearly even reflected the recent voting in the 2010 parliamentary elections when the former’s list, the Iraqi National Movement, just barely nudged out the premier’s State of Law. It also shows that if there were new elections in Iraq, as some politicians have recently called for to solve the on-going government crisis, nothing would be solved since the same ruling parties would probably pull roughly the same number of votes.

Opinion of Iraqi leaders – favorable/unfavorable

Total
Shiite
Sunni
Kurd
Maliki
37%/57%
51%/44%
7%/81%
19%/71%
Allawi
40%/50%
25%/70%
69%/16%
49%/26%
Ammar al-Hakim
26%/64%
39%/55%
5%/87%
11%/58%
Sadr
38%/50%
59%/32%
5%/78%
10%/67%
Talabani
23%/69%
23%/72%
5%/84%
57%/35%

What this new poll shows about Iraqis is that they are deeply divided about their recent past, and future outlook. Only the Kurds felt happy about the 2003 U.S. invasion, and what it brought to the country. Now that the U.S. forces have left, all major groups are apprehensive about what might happen next. Will the country revert to sectarian violence, will the economy collapse, etc.? The fact that they have poor views of the political process and their leaders does not help, because it cannot give the average person confidence that any problems will be solved. At the same time, people seemed to be generally optimistic about the future. The message seemed to be that while the country is facing a number of issues on all fronts, the public thinks that in the end, things will eventually work out, and they will finally be able to fully enjoy the removal of Saddam Hussein.

SOURCES

Abdul-Rahman, Mohammed, “Early elections most successful solution says Iraqiya spokesperson,” AK News, 12/28/11

Agence France Presse, “Iraqis say ‘wrong time’ for US withdrawal: poll,” 8/24/10

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “Relative Stability in Iraq Despite Unrest,” National Democratic Institute, 6/2/11

Zogby, James, “Iraq: The War, Its Consequences & the Future,” Zogby Research Services, 11/20/11

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