In December 2015 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research released a new public opinion poll on Iraq. The company has done several such surveys over the last couple years, and the data is some of the most comprehensive available on how Iraqis are feeling about their country. The survey was done from August 12 to September 3 and included 2,000 people from all major regions of the country. The results showed that Prime Minister Haidar Abadi was still widely popular in Iraq, far above any other national leader. On the other hand, the public had a low opinion of the ruling parties and government in general, and had different thoughts on what needed to be fixed in the country apart from what politicians talk about.
Prime Minister Haidar Abadi was by far the most popular politician in the poll. He had an approval rating of 65%, and 58% of respondents said they wanted to continue in the direction he was leading the country. The only region that disagreed was Kurdistan with only 14% agreeing with the premier. In comparison, in Baghdad and the south 76% wanted to follow Abadi, and 42% in western Iraq. When compared to other national leaders the prime minister also had the highest rating with 54% versus 30% for Muqtada al-Sadr, 17% for Ammar Hakim head of the Supreme Council, 16% for ex-Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, 15% for Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, 11% for Speaker of Parliament Salim Jabouri, 10% for former VP Iyad Allawi, 9% for Iraq’s President Fuad Masum, and 5% for dismissed VP Osama Nujafi. When broken down by sect 75% of Shiites approved of the prime minister and 39% for Sunnis versus 34% unfavorable. Only Kurdish respondents had a bad view of him at 82% unfavorable. Abadi came in with a very positive approval rating when he was first elected in December 2014 at 75%. Even though it dipped after that he was still far above any other politician. August when the survey was done was also when the premier announced his reform program in response to national protests, and that could have maintained his support. The low rating amongst Kurds was likely due to Baghdad’s on going dispute with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the budget and oil exports.
Do you approve/disapprove of the job PM Abadi is doing?
I want to continue in the direction PM Abadi is taking Iraq versus I want to go in a different direction than the PM
Overall 58% Follow PM, 21% Different Direction
Baghdad 76% Follow PM, 8% Different Direction
South 76% Follow PM, 11% Different Direction
West 42% Follow PM, 17% Different Direction
Kurdistan 14% Follow PM, 77% Different Direction
How do you feel about Iraq’s political leaders?
Abadi 54% Favorable, 31% Unfavorable
Sadr 30% Favorable, 45% Unfavorable
Hakim 17% Favorable, 57% Unfavorable
Maliki 16% Favorable, 73% Unfavorable
M. Barzani 15% Favorable, 68% Unfavorable
Jabouri 11% Favorable, 63% Unfavorable
Allawi 10% Favorable, 75% Unfavorable
Masum 9% Favorable, 68% Unfavorable
O. Nujafi 5% Favorable, 79% Unfavorable
Opinion of PM Abadi by sect
Shiites 75% Favorable, 15% Unfavorable
Sunnis 39% Favorable, 34% Unfavorable
Kurds 5% Favorable, 82% Unfavorable
The survey showed the majority of Iraqis had a very low opinion of the country’s ruling parties. The Badr organization had the most favorable responses at 36% with 43% not liking the party. After that Sadr’s Ahrar bloc had 20% favorable 49% unfavorable, Abadi’s Dawa came in with 18% favorable 57% unfavorable, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan had 15% favorable 56% unfavorable, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) 14% favorable 57% unfavorable, the Kurdistan Democratic Party 14% favorable 59% unfavorable, Gorran came in with 11% favorable 62% unfavorable, Nujafi’s Mutahidun had 10% favorable 66% unfavorable, and Allawi’s Iraqi Nationalists finished with 6% favorable 71% unfavorable. After the fall of Mosul in June 2014 the Badr Organization was quick to respond with its militia, which became part of the Hashd al-Shaabi/Popular Mobilization units, while its leader Hadi Ameri took a commanding role in security operations. That probably accounts for why his party had the best rating out of the ruling parties. Still they were all held in low regard.
Favorable/Unfavorable View Of Iraq’s Political Parties
Badr 36% Favorable, 43% Unfavorable
Ahrar 20% Favorable, 49% Unfavorable
Dawa 18% Favorable, 57% Unfavorable
PUK 15% Favorable, 56% Unfavorable
ISCI 14% Favorable, 57% Unfavorable
KDP 14% Favorable, 59% Unfavorable
Gorran 11% Favorable, 62% Unfavorable
Mutahidun 10% Favorable, 66% unfavorable
Iraqi Nationalists 6% Favorable, 71% Unfavorable
Despite Abadi’s high rating the majority of people believed that the country was going in the wrong direction. 65% felt that way compared to 26% who thought Iraq was heading the right way. Since 2012 most Iraqis had a negative opinion of the way the nation was heading. The easiest way to explain the pessimistic responses in 2015 would be to blame the war against the Islamic State. Since the feelings were steady for several years however other issues were probably at play, which led to the next question.
Is Iraq going in the right or wrong direction?
Nov 2010: 45% Right, 44% Wrong
Aug 2011: 37% Right, 50% Wrong
Nov 2012: 40% Right, 54% Wrong
Sep 2013: 31% Right, 65% Wrong
Dec 2014: 34% Right, 55% Wrong
Sep 2015: 26% Right, 65% Wrong
When asked what were the most important topics the government needed to deal with security and corruption were at the top of the list. Security was at 48% followed by corruption at 43%. After that services, 37%, jobs, 30% were the next highest. The displaced, sectarianism, inflation, schools, and the Baghdad-Irbil dispute all received 15% or less showing they were not major concerns. Instead, the war, graft, and the lack of opportunities and services were what Iraqis believed were the most pressing issues. That’s been true for the last decade as the insurgency rose and fell and returned, while the government has never been able to resolve chronic shortages in things like electricity in part due to the widespread theft amongst government officials.
What two issues are the most important for the government to address?
Basic services 37%
Internally displaced 15%
High prices 5%
Central government-KRG dispute 2%
Few believed that the authorities were dealing with these problems. When asked how had the government responded to people’s needs three out of four regions said worse with the south at 68%, the west 50%, and Kurdistan 85%. Only in Baghdad did 37% say better versus 35% worse. Those were all higher than when people were asked that same questions in December 2014 showing growing frustration. Likewise, provincial governments did no better with 59% saying worse in Baghdad, 72% worse in the south, 66% worse in the west, and 70% worse in Kurdistan. Again, those were all worse then December 2014 with the exception of Kurdistan that was up 6%. This ties in with the low opinion of Iraq’s leaders and parties. Iraqis didn’t believe that their needs were being met, and blamed their representatives.
Is the government responsive to the people’s needs?
Baghdad 35% Worse, 37% Better
South 68% Worse, 24% Better
West 50% Worse, 20% Better
Kurdistan 85% Worse, 9% Better
Is the local government responsive to the people’s needs?
Baghdad 59% Worse, 33% Better
South 72% Worse, 22% Better
West 66% Worse, 21% Better
Kurdistan 70% Worse, 23% Better
Two solutions that have been proposed to help resolve Iraq’s chronic violence and political discord are to pass laws aimed at reconciliation and decentralize power neither of which rated well with respondents. When asked which law was the most important to be passed for political accommodation none of the three major ones before parliament seemed important. The Amnesty Law that would deal with prisoners got the most positive results, but that only stood at 26%. Even amongst Sunnis it only got 36%. The Federal Court law that would reform the judiciary received 16% and the National Guard Law that would create new regional defense units got 12%. Premier Abadi has tried to push the latter as a means to include Sunni forces into the government, but just 10% of Sunni respondents in the poll believed it was necessary. When the topic of giving the provinces more power was brought up it didn’t fare any better. Only 18% thought that would be very effective in solving problems with 54% saying somewhat. When asked what would be the best way to accomplish political reconciliation decentralizing power to the governorates the numbers went down to 14% thinking it would be very effective and 43% somewhat. This has been something that Abadi has pushed as well and the provincial councils have been lobbying for years for.
Which of the following laws before parliament are the most important to achieve political accommodation?
Federal Court Law
National Guard Law
What are the most important ways to achieve reconciliation in Iraq?
Fair judicial process 49% Very Effective, 78% Somewhat Effective
Improving economy 38% Very Effective, 73% Somewhat Effective
Equitable sharing of resources amongst sects 37% Very Effective, 76% Somewhat
Equitable sharing of political power among sects 34% Very Effective, 80% Somewhat
Giving provinces more power 18% Very Effective, 54% Somewhat Effective
Decentralizing power to provincial governments 14% Very Effective, 43% Somewhat
What are the most important ways to achieve reconciliation in Iraq by sect
Fair judicial process Shiites 51%, Sunnis 59%, Kurds 27%
Improving economy Shiites 37%, Sunnis 40%, Kurds 37%
Equitable sharing of resources amongst sects Shiites 33%, Sunnis 52%, 19% Kurds
Equitable sharing of political power among sects Shiites 36%, Sunnis 40%, Kurds 19%
Giving provinces more power Shiites 20%, Sunnis 14%, Kurds 20%
Decentralizing power to provincial governments Shiites 11%, Sunnis 16%, Kurds 26%
For Sunnis the two most important issues were a fair judiciary, 59%, and equitable sharing of resources amongst the country’s sects, 52%. Mass arrests and prisoners being held indefinitely without warrants or after release orders have been issued have been long time complaints by the community as they feel like they are facing group punishment by the government. That would be partly dealt with by the Amnesty Law, which was why it received the highest importance from Sunni respondents amongst the three bills asked about. The sharing of resources and political power, which was at 40% amongst Sunnis ties in with the sects’ belief that they have gotten the short end of the stick by the Shiite parties since 2003. Even though government offices are all doled out by quotas and Sunni parties have been given a mix of meaningful, speaker of parliament, and symbolic positions, vice president, and a larger percentage of posts within each administration then their percentage in the population that has not changed the widespread belief that they have been marginalized. That applies to sharing the country’s oil wealth and development as well. How or even if these feelings can be overcome is one of the questions Iraq has struggled with for over a decade now and may not be resolvable since some Sunnis will not be happy until they rule the country once more.
For Shiites the two biggest issues were a fair judiciary as well, 51%, and improving the economy, 37%. Many see Iraqi courts as being corrupt and pliant to the ruling parties, and they also turn a blind eye to the institutionalized abuse that takes place for anyone that is arrested in order to obtain a confession. The judiciary for example, was a major point for protests that started across Iraq during the summer. The fact that the Federal Court law was not seen as an effective way to deal with this problem by both Sunnis and Shiites may reflect the fact that they don’t believe it will address the root problems with the judicial system. The economy is also stagnating due to the drop in oil prices. Since Iraq is a petroleum dependent country it has little leverage to pull itself out of this problem as it is dealing with forces outside of its control.
Finally, for Kurds the two top priorities were improving the economy, 37%, and equitable sharing of political power, 36%. Kurdistan’s economy has been hit even harder than the rest of the country because former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stopped sending the region its share of the budget due to the dispute over who should control oil resources in 2014. While budget payments were temporarily revived under Abadi when a new agreement was made, that fell apart as well. In turn, that has meant the regional government has not been able to pay its workers for months nor the oil companies that it depends on to develop its energy sector that is paying the bills. Like the rest of Iraq the KRG is an oil dependent and public sector heavy economy meaning that any changes in the petroleum industry trickles down to all segments of the population. The Kurds also feel that they are not getting their fair share of power in Baghdad due to the Shiite parties. This hit a low point with the Maliki administration who directly challenge the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over a number of issues, and those negative feelings have carried over to Abadi. Like the Sunnis these perceptions are hard to change.
What these results show is that what has been bandied about both within and without Baghdad as some steps to resolve the country’s problems are not seen as important by the public. It also highlights that there are some issues upon which both Sunnis and Shiites agree upon like fixing the judiciary that the ruling parties could work on that would find widespread support. Then again there are more intractable disputes such as power sharing that are likely to go nowhere as both Sunnis and Kurds believe they are not getting enough positions as they are due, while Shiites think they have enough or even too much. The fact that so many Iraqis have a very low opinion of their government and the people elected to run it means they have little faith that these problems will be properly addressed anytime soon. Overall, Iraqis seemed to be very dissatisfied about their nation with few exceptions. That explains why there have been protests almost every year in the country that only gain token responses from the country’s leaders. Sadly the ruling parties are more concerned with preserving their own power and thinking of politics as a zero sum game where no concessions can be given to their rivals that blocks almost all serious work from being done other than what is necessary such as passing a budget so that things can keep running as they are. Until that changes many Iraqis will continue to feel frustrated.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “Lack of Responsiveness Impacts Mood, August-September 2015 Survey Findings,” 11/23/15