"Thank you, and get out."
That's how Iraqis feel about the U.S. invasion and occupation of their country, according to a poll of 3,444 Iraqis taken by the Pan Arab Research Center of Dubai in late March and early April, just before the current insurrection started. The poll, taken on behalf of the Gallup Organization, USA Today, and CNN, showed that the Iraqi people are happy Saddam Hussein is out. They don't think it could have happened without U.S. intervention. And they want the dictator brought to justice.
Nevertheless, 57 percent of Iraqis said they want the occupation to end as quickly as possible. Why? Because the occupation has stirred up Iraqi nationalism. The United States expected to deal with resentment of the occupation. President Bush said at his April 13 news conference, "They're not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied, either." But what's going on is something deeper than that. It's anti-Americanism.
Fewer than one-quarter of Iraqis, mostly those in the Kurdish region of the country, expressed a favorable opinion of the United States. A majority of Iraqis (55 percent) had a negative opinion. The figure was even higher—more than 60 percent—among Iraqi Arabs, both Sunni and Shiite.
The poll showed deep resentment of foreign influence. For instance, by 46 percent to 28 percent, Iraqis had a negative opinion of the Coalition Provisional Authority—the foreign occupying force, dominated by the United States and Britain. But 54 percent of Iraqis had a positive view of the Iraqi Governing Council, the committee chosen to help run the country; only 21 percent held a negative view. The Governing Council is made up of Iraqis, not foreigners. Iraqis approve of it, even though the poll showed that they know the council is not independent and has to answer to the occupation authorities.
The only Iraqis who appear truly enthusiastic about the occupation are the Kurds. More than 90 percent of those in the Kurdish area expressed a favorable opinion of both the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council. Sunni and Shiite Arabs shared a negative view of the CPA. But they split over the Iraqi Governing Council. Most Shiites had a positive view of the council. Most Sunnis did not. Sunnis fear that any new regime threatens their historic domination of the country, which dates back to the colonial era.
Any institution identified as "Iraqi" drew a positive response, including the new Iraqi police force (76 percent favorable) and the new Iraqi army (72 percent). The Iraqi people want to get foreigners out and get Iraqis back in control of their own affairs. That's why the United States feels pressure to transfer authority to the Iraqis as quickly as possible.
The U.S. is trying to build a coalition for democracy in Iraq, and the poll revealed a strong desire for democracy. More than 90 percent of respondents endorsed the view that Iraq should have a democratic government—but not exactly on the U.S. model. Most Iraqis (58 percent) said they oppose the separation of religion and state. They favored strong Islamic advice and influence in the new government. Only 20 percent said they want an Islamic republic like the one in Iran, where the country is run by religious authorities. Shiites expressed the most support for an Islamic republic (40 percent approved), but even most Shiites found that model unacceptable.
Iraqis do not support the insurgents, whom they suspect of having radical anti-democratic motives. For instance, 58 percent of respondents agreed that "the attacks are an effort to disrupt the plan for transferring responsibility for our security to Iraqi forces." Sixty-two percent saw the attacks as an attempt to incite divisions and civil war.
The United States wants to isolate the anti-democratic extremists. "The closer we come to passing sovereignty," Bush said last week, "the more likely it is that foreign fighters, disgruntled Baathists, and friends of the [dissident] Shia cleric will try to stop progress." But Iraqis distrust American motives and intentions. Asked whether the U.S. is "very serious" about establishing democracy in Iraq, only 37 percent of Iraqis said yes; 50 percent said no.
What you have in Iraq is two competing impulses. On the one hand, Iraqis have a strong desire for democracy, which the United States is encouraging. On the other hand, they resent the Americans and want to end the occupation. The insurgents are trying to build an anti-American coalition faster than the U.S. can build a coalition for democracy. That's why the transition to democracy has become so urgent.
Iraqis said they were split at the time of the invasion over whether the coalition forces were liberators (43 percent) or occupiers (43 percent). Now, they've made up their minds: 71 percent of those polled said they consider the coalition forces to be occupiers. Only 19 percent called them liberators.
A poll of Americans last month by CBS News and The New York Times also revealed growing doubts about the U.S. mission in Iraq. Only 47 percent of Americans felt the U.S. did the right thing by taking military action against Iraq, down from 58 percent a month earlier. The public was evenly split over whether U.S. forces should remain in Iraq for as long as it takes to create a stable democracy (46 percent) or withdraw as soon as possible (46 percent).
If Iraqis are saying, "Thank you, and get out," more and more Americans seem ready to say, "You're welcome, and goodbye."