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Saturday, March 17, 2007

The paradox of Iraqi optimism 


The Times of London has written a short article about a poll taken of Iraqis. A couple of its findings are quite interesting:

MOST Iraqis believe life is better for them now than it was under Saddam Hussein, according to a British opinion poll published today.

The survey of more than 5,000 Iraqis found the majority optimistic despite their suffering in sectarian violence since the American-led invasion four years ago this week.

One in four Iraqis has had a family member murdered, says the poll by Opinion Research Business. In Baghdad, the capital, one in four has had a relative kidnapped and one in three said members of their family had fled abroad. But when asked whether they preferred life under Saddam, the dictator who was executed last December, or under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, most replied that things were better for them today.

Only 27% think there is a civil war in Iraq, compared with 61% who do not, according to the survey carried out last month.

By a majority of two to one, Iraqis believe military operations now under way will disarm all militias. More than half say security will improve after a withdrawal of multinational forces.

Commentary

Iraqis seem to believe both that the "surge" is working and that security will improve still further after a withdrawal of the foreign armies. Opponents of the Bush administration will either discount this result or argue that it is reason enough to withdraw immediately. Iraqis, however, essentially believe the possibilities for the Petraeus plan -- we provide temporary security with the objective of creating the space necessary for the government and army of Iraq to stand without assistance, after which we substantially withdraw.

The survey also makes much of the idea that Iraqis, who have suffered enormously in the last four years, nevertheless prefer current conditions to life under Saddam. The Times article does not say whether this preference extends across confessional lines -- I guess that it does not -- but the result is interesting nonetheless. Not only does it suggest a fundamental optimism among Iraqis -- and optimism is an essential precondition to the establishment of a new form of government in Iraq -- but it reminds us how truly horrible life under Saddam must have been. It is quite extraordinary that one quarter of all Iraqis have had a family member murdered since the toppling of the Ba'athists and still they do not hanker for the way it was.

MORE: Wretchard elaborates:
It is interesting to speculate on where the Coalition presence fits into the picture. The coalition is obviously necessary to "disarm all militias", but its eventual departure is also desired. This squares with what I've frequently heard in round-table blogger discussions with officers in Iraq that nearly every Iraqi wants the US to leave, but very few of them want America to leave immediately.

What the poll amounts to is a snapshot of what the Iraqi public thinks the trajectory should be. It implies that they desire a post-Saddam world free of certain influences which they are now struggling against; that the US has a role in helping them reach that state after which they devoutly wish it would leave. But as to what the future state is the poll gives precious little indication. All we can surmise that it is a fundamentally national state without militias, but the poll as reported lets us see no further. And neither perhaps can anyone else.

12 Comments:

By Blogger allen, at Sat Mar 17, 11:50:00 PM:

The administration must get General Petraeus those three additional Stryker brigades before the current May delivery date. This is not the time to lose momentum. That he has just received about 2,600 support troops, a month after his request, is the sort of delay that must be avoided at all costs.

No complaint is intended, but General Petraeus means business and no excuse should be allowed to hinder his requests.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 18, 01:24:00 AM:

If a 1/4 of the Iragi people have had a family member murdered, that's around 6 million people out of a population of 25 mil.

I'm sorry but I don't believe it. The anti-war groups that reported on deaths after the invasion only came up with about a tenth of 6 mil, and I tend to think they were stretching it at that time.  

By Anonymous art hippler, at Sun Mar 18, 02:17:00 AM:

There is a huge difference between 25% of a population and 25% of the families in a society. The term family could include a hundred people. There is little reason to doubt that recognizing the import of extended families and kin ties could make the 25 % figure accurate. It is also true that Saddams excesses were so great that it's reasonable that optimism about a non-Saddamic future would be substantial even in the face of spporadic and quite dangerous vioplence. It means they think it can be curbed, and according to the soldiers I hear from, the people are more than surprisingly happy abpout the presence of the US forces.
Nonetheless, it stands to reason than most Iraqis, would prefer to be in charge of their own social control. What's even more interesting is how many Iraqis actually think of themselves as Iraqis and not some subset, always remembering that the Kurds may be less enthusiastic about anything short of some degree of autonomy. As thgey have always said, "The mounntains are our only friends."  

By Blogger Steve, at Sun Mar 18, 07:02:00 AM:

The Times article does not say whether this preference extends across confessional lines

The Times also offers a significantly more complete report of the ORB poll -- which includes the breakdown you were seeking:


Not surprisingly, the divisions in Iraqi society were reflected in statistics — Sunnis were more likely to back the previous Ba’athist regime (51%) while the Shi’ites (66%) preferred the Maliki government.


I think the relatively small sectarian difference is encouraging - as is the overall poll.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Mar 18, 08:06:00 AM:

Anonymous 1:24 am - I think your math is wrong. It isn't that 1/4 of all Iraqis have been murdered. It is that 1/4 of all Iraqis have had a family member murdered. Counting for cousins and in-laws, each murder in a close knit Iraqi family would generate dozens if not hundreds of people in the numerator of that fraction.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Mar 18, 08:07:00 AM:

Ooops. Art Hippler made the same point.  

By Anonymous davod, at Sun Mar 18, 09:30:00 AM:

Call it the anti-surge fight back. You can have your surge but you may not get your troops quickly enought to ensure you have an effective surge.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Mon Mar 19, 01:04:00 AM:

Polls of Iraqis since 2003 all seem to have shown a similar optimism. I have to wonder if, given an increasingly polarized population, this optimism translates into all sides confident in their eventual victory, giving them all an incentive to continue fighting. If Iraqi optimism were to start going down, that could indicate a hopelessness or war weariess, in which things have gotten so bad that everyone is tired of fighting and just wants peace. This is the same trajectory the Algerian civil war followed. This is pure conjecture, mind you, but it has a certain explanatory value to it. Why would optimism remain steady as sectariasn violence intensifies? Because everyone thinks they are going to win.  

By Anonymous James, at Mon Mar 19, 03:16:00 AM:

Don't read too much into that poll. It was badly done. Take it with a large does of salt.

A good poll would have focused on the individual provinces in Iraq, not on what Sunni or Shit'tes think as a group. If an area by area poll was done then you would have a pretty good idea of what is actually happening on the ground around Iraq. I doubt many Iraqi's were polled in the Anbar province where most of the heavy fighting is occurring. The Kurds are another matter entirely. The polling from that area would show just about everyone happy with current events, considering the Kurds are running their own province with no competing groups vieing for power. Happy until the Sunni or Shit'tes decide they have too much independence. But that's a future problem for the Iraqi's - sort of.

As for the "surge"; wait till June.
Then you'll know if the Iraqi's can show they are pulling something together.

If not, starting thinking about plan Z.  

By Blogger SeekerBlog.com, at Mon Mar 19, 07:59:00 PM:

James,

A good poll would have focused on the individual provinces in Iraq

The poll statistics are broken down into fifteen provinces, summarizing up into south, central, north and then total Iraq. Links to the statistical tables and graphs are at the end of my post on the ORB poll. I would appreciate an audit of one of my conclusions discussed in that post:

...the average Shia family is more than six times as likely as a Sunni family to experience the murder of a family member. Virtually all of the suicide bombings are al Qaeda or Sunni extremists attacking Shia. [Derivation of the 6x factor: there are at least three times as many Shia as Sunni *multiplied by* the quoted (34% Shia / 15% Sunni)]...  

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