Iraq, the Surge, Partition, and the War

Public Opinion by City and Region

The attached report was prepared with the aid of Gary Langer and the ABC polling unit. It provides a detailed analysis of a recent poll of Iraqi public opinion on the war, sectarian cleansing, the Iraqi government, US forces and the surge, and many of the other issues that show the state of Iraq hearts and minds. It also shows the differences in such public opinion by sect, ethnicity, governorate, and major city where the sample of public opinion was large enough to provide a valid picture that could be broken out into such detail.

The results should be reviewed in detail. Polls do not provide some simply punch line insights, they rather provide a mosaic of the various attitudes Iraqis have towards key issues. Unless they are reviewed in detail, picking out one trend or result can be more misleading than helpful. This is particularly true of the results in this analysis. Some are consistent with the results of previous polls over a period of several years. Some reflect the initial impact of changes in US strategy and the surge at a time when the degree of added security in Baghdad and the impact of the tribal awakening in Anbar was less apparent to most Iraqis than it is today.

The reader should also remember that the results in this report do reflect “hearts and minds” on a broad level.  Decision makers often act on their own, very different perceptions. Violence and extremism are also generally driven by the views and actions of small minorities. Broad popular support for violence is rare, but this can have limited impact in a nation where minorities are willing to kill and use extreme violence with or without popular support.

That said, the results do provide important insights in several areas. They make it clear that Iraqis do not support breaking up the country, or separation and strong federalism at the expensive of national unity. They show that perceptions of violence are not eased by sectarian and ethnic divisions and are high in most areas with a dominant Arab Sunni or Arab Shi’ite population and leadership.

They also indicate that Iraqis will tolerate a US and Coalition presence only as long as it is necessary to put an end to violence and until Iraqi forces are ready to take over the job. At the same time, they show a sharp decline in popular confidence in both the national and local governments, and the perception that violence and sectarian cleansing continue to rise. This is a warning that Iraq patience in the central government’s failures to move forward in accommodation and providing effective services is wearing thin, and that the Iraqi “clock” in demanding much more rapid progress may not be all that different from the American one.