Just-departed Paul Bremer was out of touch with Iraqis
THEY'RE ANGRY ABOUT THE OCCUPATION AND WANT U.S. TO LEAVE
By Daniel Sneider
Before he skipped town, America's viceroy in Baghdad, Ambassador Paul Bremer III had this pronouncement about the people who have been his subjects for the last year or so.
``You won't find more than 2 percent of all Iraqis,'' he told the New York Times, ``for all their complaints they're making now, who think it would have been better if we had never come.''
Perhaps Bremer should have said ``2 percent of the Iraqis I talk to.'' The feelings of Iraqis are clearly a mystery to the departed occupation boss.
A majority of Iraqis, nearly 60 percent, now feel it was wrong that the U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq, according to a just-released poll. Back in February, nearly that number felt the invasion was right. That reversal does not mean, opinion poll experts point out, that Iraqis are unhappy Saddam Hussein is gone. But it does reflect the deep despair, even anger, over the United States occupation and Iraqi eagerness for Americans to leave.
Unfortunately, growing anti-Americanism is not the only result of this occupation. Iraqis continue to believe that democracy is a worthwhile objective, but somewhere down the road. Now, they tell pollsters, what Iraq needs is a strongman who can provide security, take control of the country from the Americans, and keep Iraq together.
These are only some of the disturbing findings revealed this week by Oxford Research International, a University of Oxford-based organization that has conducted four national surveys of Iraq since autumn 2003. The data is based on face-to-face surveys of almost 12,000 people across the country, done in collaboration with Iraqi universities. Polling experts consider the survey both thorough and scientific in its method.
Among the highlights of the Oxford poll:
• Falling optimism -- a majority of Iraqis feel their lives are good, the same or better than before the war and expect them to be better a year from now. Unfortunately, those holding that optimistic view have declined from eight out of ten in February to a little over six of ten in June.
• Democracy vs. a strongman -- Not surprisingly, security and stability are the top priorities of Iraqis, along with reviving the economy and rebuilding infrastructure. Compared to last autumn, when democracy topped the list of things Iraq needs in 12 months time, half of all Iraqis now want a strongman. Five years down the road, though, they would like to see a democracy in place.
• Who provides security? -- A large majority believe security will improve after Iraqis take over. A third of Iraqis want coalition forces to leave now and a third think they should stay until a permanent government is in place. But even among those who want them to remain, almost all want the troops to pull back to remote areas where they would act only if the Iraqi government asked them to.
• Occupiers, not liberators -- almost three out of four Iraqis see the coalition forces as either occupiers or a force that exploits Iraq. Only about 17 percent describe them as a ``liberating force.''
• The Abu Ghurayb effect -- almost half the Iraqis surveyed have a more negative view of the U.S. over the past two months. The reason? The prison abuses at Abu Ghurayb, followed by the attacks on Al-Fallujah and the holy Shiite cities. The only silver lining is that a majority of Iraqis believe the prison abuses were the work of fewer than 100 people.
• Who has the confidence of Iraqis? -- Iraq's religious leaders top the list of organizations that inspire confidence, followed by police and the new Iraqi army. The United Nations is next. At the bottom of the list? The U.S. and British occupation forces.
• Leaders -- Three Shiite leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were among the top four national leaders that Iraqis trust.
• And him, they didn't pick: The prime minister of the new interim government, Ayad Allawi, didn't rate even a mention. He did rank sixth, however, on the list of those whom Iraqis do not trust at all. Based on the poll results, however, Allawi clearly has a future if he convinces Iraqis he is a strongman -- and not a puppet of the Americans.
For the full details on what Iraqis are thinking these days (Bremer, Paul Wolfowitz and new U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, take note), go to: www.oxfordresearch.com/publications.html.
DANIEL SNEIDER is foreign affairs columnist for the Mercury News. His column appears on Sunday and Thursday. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 July 2004 - MercuryNews.com