A recent poll shows that Iraqis seem to want their country to move almost in the exact opposite direction politically from the one its heading in today. That hardly makes it the 'model Middle Eastern democracy' that the US and UK governments would have us believe it is. More on the poll in a moment.
During the Chomsky/Ricks discussion that I linked to in yesterday's post, Chomsky answered the question of 'what should be done about Iraq now?' by saying that that's up to Iraqis. Occupiers and invaders have exactly no rights at all in the country they've colonised. What we should do is whatever the Iraqis want. That should be the deciding factor, and any ideas we may throw around amongst ourselves belong strictly in the realms of abstraction.
We read and hear a good deal of debate in Britain and the US on what should be done about Iraq going forward, and how wonderful it was of us to turn Iraq into a democracy. These displays of altruism contrast sharply with the near total absence of knowledge about what Iraqis think and what sort of furture they desire for their country.
Occasionally, I've tried to use this site to present Iraqi voices
speaking at length on how they see the situation
. I've also tried to contrast what we know of Iraqi popular opinion with the outcomes under the fraudulant "democracy"
afforded them by the occupiers.
So to continue in that vein, I'll quote here at length from a University of Michigan survey of Iraqi public opinion, published in June this year and presented in comparison with a 2004 poll (quotes in italics). It makes for very interesting, and sometimes surprising reading. I'll also throw in a few of my own comments here and there.
"Over the last two years, Iraqi political values have become more secular and nationalistic, even though attitudes toward Americans have deteriorated.....When asked what they thought were the three main reasons why the United States invaded Iraq, 76 percent gave "to control Iraqi oil" as their first choice. "But at the same time, significantly more Iraqis support democratic values, including the separation of religion and politics. "In 2004, 27 percent of the 2,325 Iraqi adults surveyed strongly agreed that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated. In 2006, 41 percent of 2,701 adults surveyed strongly agreed
Note that Iraqi opinion on this subject is moving in the exact opposite direction to actual political trends and events in the new 'Western-style democracy'. We've seen a dramatic shift from an overwhelmingly secular Iraq pre-invasion, to today's country, dominated by religious political parties, militias and insurgent groups. Apparently, this has happened exactly contrary to trends in public opinion, wherein desire for secularism is increasing even as actual secularism disappears
"The findings of this second survey show that even though Iraqis have a more negative attitude to foreigners, especially Americans, they are moving closer to American values and are developing a much stronger sense of national identity," said Mansoor Moaddel, a sociologist at Eastern Michigan University and at the ISR
It seems plain that there's no "even though
" contradiction here. Iraqis can move toward these values independently of their deepening anger at America because, contrary to the rhetoric, they have been shown precious little of what purport to be "American values" by the occupation. Supposed "American values" and actual American policy are completely unrelated
"In one indication of a possible lessening of sectarian conflict, the proportion of Iraqis who identified themselves as Muslim Arabs rather than as Shi'a or Sunni Arabs increased from 6 percent in 2004 to 14 percent in 2006. "The percentage of those surveyed who agreed with the statement "I am an Iraqi above all" rose from 23 percent in 2004 to 28 percent in 2006 in the country as a whole, from 23 percent to 33 percent in urban areas, and from 30 percent to 62 percent among Baghdad residents. "Despite increased political violence between the Shi'as and the Sunnis, the researchers found no significant change in the overall level of inter-ethnic trust among Iraqis. While trust between the Shi'as and the Sunnis declined, trust between the Sunnis and the Kurds increased between 2004 and 2006.
This doesn't necessarily indicate "a possible lessening of sectarian conflict", since that's apparently driven by an extremist minority (see below). But its a hopeful sign that despite everything that's happened, sectarianism doesn't appear to have put down deep roots in Iraqi society, and that popular opposition to sectarianism is growing. Although, as the survey says "trust between the Shi'as and the Sunnis declined", and that's the significant concern
"Among Iraqis as a whole, 59 percent of those surveyed in 2006 strongly agreed with the following statement: "In Iraq these days life is unpredictable and dangerous." That compares to 46 percent who strongly agreed in 2004. "This change varied among ethnic groups, with the biggest change among Kurds," Moaddel said. "Only 17 percent strongly agreed that life was unpredictable and dangerous in 2004, but 54 percent strongly agreed in 2006."
The change in amongst Kurds possibly has to do with concerns like the simmering tensions in Kirkuk, for example.
"Iraqis' increasing attachment to national identity and increasing support for secular discourse may support the formation of a modern and democratic political order," he said. "Moreover, since the support for secular attitudes has gained considerable ground among the Sunnis, al-Qaeda may find it more difficult to recruit among this group in Iraq.
This is heartening, at least to an extent. I've argued in the past that sectarian attacks seemed to be the work of an extremist minority within an insurgency whose mainstream concentrates on military targets (and that bringing peace to Iraq could therefore come largely through political accomodation, rather than a simple fight to the death with the fanatics). The first graph ("insurgent attacks in Iraq") in this BBC article published the earlier in the week seem to bear that out. However, this report from the International Crisis Group argues that any blurred dividing line between these two tendencies has been evaporating and that the insurgency has been consolidating around an extremist Islamist leadership, thus heightening the prospects of protracted conflict and civil war. If sectarianism is actually rolling back amongst Sunni popular opinion then that at least puts limits on the drift to extremism, since the insugency can't survive without a sustainable level of support from the population. The ICG report makes clear that the broad insurgency is aware of the unpopularity of sectarianism, and distances itself from such acts in its propaganda. But that hasn't stopped the attacks from taking place, or the extremist tendency from extending its grip on the resistance as a whole.
The success of attempts to get a sense of popular opinion in Iraq - as with attempts to understand the nature of the broader Sunni insurgency and other actors in the civil conflict - are always going to be severely limited by the chaotic situation on the ground. But these studies can still be very useful in gaining as clear an understanding of the facts as possible; an essential task if we in the west are to engage with the situation effectively, and understand the consequences of our government's policies.
[Additional 27/8/2006 - a new poll shows that 91.7 percent of Iraqis oppose the occupation. And the feelings are intense. 84.5% are "strongly opposed" to the occupation. Among Sunnis, opposition to the US presence went from 94.5% to 97.9% (97.2% "strongly opposed"). Among Shia, opposition to the US presence went from 81.2% to 94.6%, with "strongly opposed" going from 63.5% to 89.7%. Even among the Kurds, opposition went from 19.6% to 63.3% (with 30.6% "strongly opposed").
Of course, Bush and Blair et al would react scornfully to any suggestion that troops should pull out, which tells you exactly what they think about Iraqi democracy.
You may remember an tourist ad for the US in the early nineties which finished with Bush I asking the viewer "so what are you waiting for? An invitation from the President?"
So what's his son waiting for now? Individual signed letters from every inhabitant of Iraq?
Also according to the poll, asked for "the three main reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq", less than 2% chose "to bring democracy to Iraq" as their first choice. The list was topped by "to control Iraqi oil" (76%), followed by "to build military bases" (41%) and "to help Israel" (32%).
Seems the backward "Arab street" has a rather keener grasp on reality than the Western political classes.]