Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Spinning to death 

The latest opinion poll from Iraq, leaked to "Newsweek", is bad news for the Coalition. While some Iraqi institutions enjoy reasonable levels of trust and Iraqis are generally optimistic about the prospects for their country, the Coalition's stocks are at an all time low (for example, 92% of those polled see the Coalition as occupiers and only 2% sees them as liberators).

"We've lost the Iraqis," comments Andrew Sullivan. However he considers the poll "skewed because it doesn't include the Kurds." That's not quite correct, the polling was done in Mosul too (as well as Baghdad, Basrah, Hillah, Diwaniyah and Baqubah). Having said that, I wouldn't mind knowing the full methodology - the sample does seem somewhat skewed towards the Sunni parts of Iraq at the expense of Shia and the Kurds. The latter have traditionally been strongly pro-Coalition (see my comments on the previous Iraqi poll), but you only have to read the Kurdish Media recently to know that the Kurds are now feeling betrayed over the transition process.

With all the bad news to choose from, you would have thought that "Newsweek" would just be able to report the results in a straight-forward way. Here's hoping. "[T]he vast majority of Iraqis want Coalition troops out of the country 'immediately'," says the story's blurb. That's actually not right. You have to look into the detailed results to see that the "vast majority" consists of 41% of those polled. 45% believe that the Coalition forces should leave after permanent government is elected (i.e. no sooner than early 2005), a further 6% think that the Coalition should stay as long as it thinks is necessary for stability and 4% think the Coalition should stay another two years. So how's this for a blurb instead: "55% of Iraqis believe that the Coalition forces should stay for at least half a year more"? But that would be accurate reporting.

And while the polling is bad news for the Coalition, the proponents of the "we need UN to give transition legitimacy" argument won't get much cheer either: 66% of those polled have no or not much confidence in the UN - this is a better figure than for the Coalition forces (87%) and the Coalition Provisional Authority (85%) but still not much to build on.

One last caveat - the polling was taken between mid-April and mid-May, at the height of fighting in Fallujah and in the South, as well as at the height of the prisoner abuse scandal. We can only hope that with less violence and the transition of sovereignty the public mood will improve.

More overnight thoughts: I keep thinking about the Kurds, and the earlier poll, which was taken between March 22 and April 3, that is not that long before the current one. The responses from the Kurdish areas were quite overwhelming then: 95% supported the Coalition military action (versus 31% overall), 96% thought the attacks on Coalition forces were unjustified (versus 47% overall), 95% though the Coalition forces should stay longer (versus 36% overall), 97% considered the Americans to be liberators (versus 19% overall). I know that a lot can change over a few weeks, but the Kurds compose somewhere between 15% and 20% of the Iraqi population. The current poll just doesn't quite seem right with its extreme one-way results.

On another aspect: 62% of Iraqis think it's very likely, and 25% that it's somewhat likely that the Iraqi army and police will be able to maintain security without the Coalition forces. 55% would feel more safe if the Coalition forces left immediately. 79% believe that the attacks have increased because people lost faith in the Coalition forces. I fear that Iraqis might be in for a nasty surprise when they discover that violence is only partly related to the Coalition presence. The assassinations of Iraqi officials, attacks on Iraqi army and police (update: like this), as well as the constant sabotage of oil and electricity infrastructure should already give them the hint that the terrorists have larger objectives than just making the US leave.


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