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Iraq By The Numbers By: Steven Vincent
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, May 03, 2004

"IRAQIS TO U.S: GO HOME,” screamed an April 28th headline on USA Today’s website.  And indeed, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll conducted among nearly 3,500 people, 71 percent of Iraqis view the Coalition as “occupiers” of their country and 57 percent want the troops to leave within a few months.  Worse, by a 46 to 33 percent margin, Iraqis feel the invasion created more harm than good.  Even worse, 58 percent expressed a negative view of U.S. troops, with an astonishing 64 percent of Baghdad’s population claiming that attacks on U.S. soldiers can be justified.  No wonder USA Today tagged a second headline to the article “POLL: IRAQIS OUT OF PATIENCE.” 

But wait.  The same poll indicated that 61 percent of the Iraqis believe that the suffering they’ve endured since the invasion was “worth” the removal of Saddam Hussein.  Moreover, 89 percent agreed that Iraqis themselves could not have removed the dictator.   Eighty-four percent stated that their family incomes were about the same or better than the invasion, while 63 percent believed that life will improve in their nation over the next five years.  Perhaps a more accurate USA Today headline might have read, “UNGRATEFUL IRAQS ENJOY BENEFITS FROM INVASION.”

But wait again.  When asked if they based their negative assessment of American soldiers on personal experience, only seven percent of Iraqis and eight percent of Baghdadis said yes.  In a related question, only eight percent of Baghdadis affirmed that either they or any family members had had personal interaction with U.S. troops  So why do they have such a sour perception of GIs on?  Thirty-nine percent admit to basing their opinion on what they’ve “seen,” 54 percent on what they’ve “heard.”  What in the name of Aisha’s camel is going on here?


Let’s take that last statistic first.  It’s impossible to overstate the torrent of rumor and gossip Iraqis receive on a daily basis—and which, if it involves negative stories about the U.S. (or Israel), they uncritically consider true.  Take, for example,  the enchanting folks of the Sunni Triangle.  Traveling from Ramadi to Fallujah to Tikrit and beyond, I heard identical complaints--U.S. soldiers show “disrespect” to Iraqi women, steal “money and gold” from Iraqi homes and are “Zionist infidels.” Now, aside from that last allegation, no doubt some GIs have justified these Iraqi complaints.  But the Sunnis’ charges were so unvaried and similar, that I wondered if I were hearing different versions of a single story told over and over again in order to satisfy some pre-existing resentment toward America.  And lo and behold, the USA Today poll mirrors these same objections:  55 percent of the Sunnis claimed that GIs showed “disrespect” to women, 75 percent said they mistreated Iraqi families whose homes they searched, and 54 percent felt they showed lack of respect while searching mosques.  All this, even though only 10 percent admit to personally experiencing these outrages


As for what Iraqis “see,” let me offer another small anecdote:  in Fallujah, I spoke to three Iraqi men who claimed that, the day before, they witnessed a GI shoot a woman dead in the street.  Traveling to the scene of the murder, I encountered a passing policeman whom I asked about the incident.  No, he said, a soldier had not killed the woman; rather, she had been shot as part of a revenge-honor killing involving two Kurdish families.  So much for Iraqi eye-witnesses.  But they don’t need to see American atrocities firsthand:  they have TV.  According to the poll,  28 percent and 27 percent of Iraqi people watch Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera TV, respectively, while 39 and 35 percent think the jihadist-friendly news sources are in fact “objective.”  With this in mind, perhaps USAToday’s headline should have read;  “POLL RESULTS SKEWED BY IRAQIS’ CREDULOUS ACCEPTANCE OF ANTI-AMERICAN GOSSIP AND NEWS.”


But there’s more.  When asked what would happen if Coalition forces departed from Iraqi “today,” 53 percent of respondents said they would feel “less safe.”  The Kurds in particular:  92 percent thought a quick pull-out would precipitate anarchy, while 84 percent want the post-June 30th Iraqi government to request that the troops stay in Iraq.  Contrast this with only 33 percent of non-Kurds—which means, for all intents and purposes, Arabs--who believe that the Coalition’s withdrawal would trigger a disaster, and 51 percent who thought a new Iraqi government should demand the troops leave immediately.  What does this mean?  Well, USA Today might have stated:    ‘MILLIONS OF KURDS TRUST COALITION MORE THAN ARABS AND WANT TROOPS TO REMAIN.”    


Nor can we blame the good people of Kurdistan.  By margins of roughly 75 to 35 percent, Arabs are more likely than Kurds to favor giving religious leaders a “direct role” in such matters as deciding school curriculum, drafting legislation and determining who should run for office.  In the all-important “women’s issue” the Kurds come off as veritable suffragettes compared to their Arab brethren.  When asked if women should have the same rights as men, 98 percent of Kurds said “yes,” versus 42 percent of non-Kurds.  More incredibly, in answering whether women should have more freedom than before the invasion or less, 82 percent of the Kurds said “more,” while 60 percent of Arabs believed than should adopt even more stringent “traditional” roles than they had before Iraq’s liberation.  America’s country’s largest-circulation newspaper might have declared, “POLL SHOWS THAT KURDS, NOT ARABS, SHOULD RUN IRAQ.”


None of this should diminish the pain the non-Kurdish Iraqis reported on the survey—or the glaring failures of the U.S. reconstruction effort.  When 100 percent of Baghdadis report electricity shortages, 82 percent complain of lengthy lines at gas stations and 70 percent say they’re afraid to go outside of their homes during the day, you know something is wrong.  When 69 percent of Iraqis feel that cooperating with the CPA could endanger their lives, Sheriff George W. Bush has not done his job locking up the “bad guys.”  Or, as one Iraqi said to me, “If you’re going to occupy our country, occupy it.” 


Still, along with U.S. mistakes, this poll also indicates the depth of Iraqi confusion, resentment, ingratitude, unrealistic expectations and chest-puffing bravado.  Moreover, it does not register the much-remarked-upon tendency of Arabic-speaking people to exaggerate and make overassertions (a la Saddam’s “Mother of All Battles”), especially if they fear they might not be heard or understood.  Nor does it answer the most crucial issue behind the poll:  will Iraqi unhappiness translate into increased hostile action against the Coalition?  We all pray it won’t, of course.  Still, I wish the pollsters had asked at least one other question:  do the majority of Iraqis really know what will happen should the Coalition leave and they find themselves living in a Islamic state with religious-based laws, women in virtual slavery and bearded old men determining their destinies?  I can already see the headline:  “IRAQIS TO U.S:  COME BACK.”  

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