Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Iraqi Opinion Survey Paints Conflicting Picture

Written by johnleemk on 9:58:17 am Mar 19, 2007.

Reading the opinions put out by the press today, one often hears a lot about what anyone but the Iraqis want. The Americans and British want out of an obvious quagmire, as soon as possible. Much of the rest of the world wants to try the American and British leaders for war crimes.

But what do the Iraqis want? A survey recently commissioned by a group of several media organisations (including the BBC, a few American media firms, and a German media group) indicate that what they want does not necessarily dovetail with what the Americans or the rest of the world wants.

One increasingly common description of the situation in Iraq at the moment is "civil war". But surprisingly, a majority of Iraqis appear to reject this label.

Another orthodoxy is that Iraq should be carved up because it is an artificial creation of the British — there is no way the Kurds, Shiites and Sunni could get along. But this too appears to have been rejected by a majority of Iraqis. Nevertheless, it's quite possible that this is just reflecting the nature of the insurgency — it's not a revolution for one side to break away from the others. It's an outright civil war for control and dominion of the whole country, other communities be damned.

Naturally, the Iraqis aren't very happy with the American military presence. Over two-thirds of respondents believe that the Americans have actually worsened the security situation there, and an overwhelming 82% have no confidence in the American troops. Half of Iraqis believe attacks on coalition forces are justified. At the same time, almost two-thirds believe the Americans should not leave yet.

When the American troops should leave, however, is a more divisive question. Most Americans want their troops out of there as soon as possible, and I believe it has been recommended that they just create a decent Iraqi Armed Forces and get the hell out of there. However, only a minority of Iraqis prefer this. Apparently, Iraqis want the Americans to stay until security is restored.

Much of the rest of the survey's findings were probably no surprise to anyone. The quality of life remains poor, and violence is still prevalent. Iraqis are split in opinion about Saddam's execution, almost exactly according to what religious community they're from.

A couple of extra findings did suggest some further insights to me, however. One is that while a fifth of Iraqis support an Islamic theocracy, a plurality (over 40%) support a democratic form of government for Iraq now. This becomes a majority of over 50% when respondents are asked to think about what government would be best for Iraq in five years.

What's worrying is that over a fifth of respondents supported a "strong leader" (i.e. dictator ala Saddam) for Iraq in five years time. This may simply be reflective of Sunni longing for the days when they were the powerful community, i.e. the days of Saddam. Certainly, they were more supportive of dictatorship than democracy when polled. Nevertheless, they appear to accept the need for democracy in the long run.

One thing that concerns me a lot is that the Shiites are great supporters of democracy. Why is this worrying? Because as the majority group, they can easily abuse democracy and turn it into majority rule. I fear that if a proper constitutional democracy is established in Iraq, they will not be satisfied and demand a more majoritarian (but ultimately more unjust) system of government.

Certainly, these sentiments are already on display in the provisional government, which is Shiite-dominated. The Sunnis live in fear of government forces, which are overwhelmingly Shiite.

Something else that may lend us some hope is that respondents in the southern and northern parts of Iraq say life is good for them. This indicates that violence (and thus a stymying of development) is mainly restricted to the central areas, which are American-controlled and are the centre of the Shiite-Sunni battle.

In the south of Iraq, which was occupied by the British, the Brits put their experience in dealing with insurgencies (the Malayan Emergency being just one of them) to good use. The result is considerably greater stability and prosperity there.

The northern part of Iraq is dominated by the Kurds. So far, all indicators are that the Kurds are well on the road to normalcy, and according to journalists based in Iraq, it seems that the Kurdish-controlled areas are the most peaceful and prosperous parts of the country. At least one community has gotten something out of this.

But still, there remains a lot of cause for concern. The survey indicates that hope remains for salvaging Iraq, however. It's not a lost cause, but I think it's time the international community did something. The Americans should stop insisting on a monopoly of the efforts to restore peace and order to Iraq, because they are clearly being overwhelmed. It's not fair to the Iraqis, for whom there can still be a bright future, and it's not fair to the Americans giving their lives up for a futile effort.

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