Iraqi Public Opinion

Here's Michael O'Hanlon in the winter 2003 issue of The National Interest assessing the situation in Iraq about six months after the invasion:

A third category of effort in any counterinsurgency, politics is harder to track using quantitative data. That is especially true because Iraq has local governments throughout almost all of the country at present, in addition to a national Governing Council. Hence, future progress will be dependent more on how well Iraqi leaders do their jobs and how quickly they establish legitimacy among the population than on increases in their ranks. An imperfect proxy for this is polling data showing how the Iraqi population feels about the foreign presence in its country and about the general direction of political life within the country. Here the verdict remains mixed. Recent Gallup polls show that a clear majority of Iraqis want coalition forces to stay and believe that life will gradually improve in the post-Saddam era. But the majority also feels frustrated and worried about internal political trends, and, as should be quite obvious, a sizeable minority with the potential to do great harm opposes the entire course of events.

At the time, this seemed very wise to me. Why end an "occupation" in Iraq if the occupied people wanted our troops to say? Over the past two or three years, however, Iraqi public opinion has magically vanished from the debate in Washington. The Global Policy Forum does, however, have a nice compilation.

We learn in this report that a whopping 6 percent of Iraqis have "a great deal" of confidence in US and British forces. An additional 12 percent have "quite a lot." 30 Percent say they have "not very much." And 52 percent say "none at all." The Iraqi police, the Iraqi army, local political leaders, the national government, and the local militia are all more popular than the American military. A clear majority thinks the US government, rather than the Iraqi government, is controlling the country. 46 percent of Iraqis "strongly oppose" the presence of American troops in Iraq and 32 percent are somewhat opposed. 69 percent say the American presence is making things worse. More Iraqis see Iran as having a positive influence on their country than see the US that way. For that matter, more Iraqis see Saudi Arabia as having a positive influence. More Iraqis see Russia as having a positive influence. 51 percent say attacks on coalition forces are acceptable. More people blame US forces (31 percent) or President Bush (9 percent) for violence in Iraq than blame al-Qaeda (18 percent) or Iran (7 pecent).

I don't say, of course, that the Iraqi public is correct about all of this, but that's what they think. Under the circumstances, I just don't see how a counterinsurgency mission could possibly succeed. If we had just recently invaded the country and were facing initial skepticism then, sure, maybe better policies would win people over. But we're talking about the reverse. The initial reception we got was open-minded. That was years ago. Now the US military is very, very, very much disliked in Iraq and it ought to leave and go places (home, Kuwait, Germany, Turkey) where it's welcome.