80% in Iraq Distrust Occupation Authority
Results of Poll, Taken Before Prison Scandal Came to Light, Worry U.S. Officials
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2004; Page A10
Four out of five Iraqis report holding a negative view of the U.S. occupation authority and of coalition forces, according to a new poll conducted for the occupation authority.
In the poll, 80 percent of the Iraqis questioned reported a lack of confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 82 percent said they disapprove of the U.S. and allied militaries in Iraq.
Although comparative numbers from previous polls are not available, "generally speaking, the trend is downward," said Donald Hamilton, a senior counselor to civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer. The occupation authority has been commissioning such surveys in Iraq since late last year, he said. This one was taken in Baghdad and several other Iraqi cities in late March and early April, shortly before the surge in anti-coalition violence and a few weeks before the detainee-abuse scandal became a major issue for the U.S. authorities in Iraq.
The new polling data, which have not been publicly released, are provoking concern among occupation authority officials and in Washington because they provide additional evidence that the U.S. effort in Iraq is not winning over Iraqi public opinion. The Bush administration and the U.S. military have said that the keys to the United States achieving its goals in Iraq are winning at least mild support from most Iraqis and creating Iraqi forces to provide security.
"How to . . . win the hearts and minds of the people [in Iraq] is one of the things that we really have to work at," Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of Army intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week. "I mean, that is the key to solving not only that problem but the rest of the problems in the Middle East."
Hamilton, who said he oversees public opinion issues for Bremer, declined to provide the number of Iraqis surveyed or other methodological details but said in an e-mail that "polls here are generally reliable" and that the new findings were consistent with those of other polls. He referred other questions to occupation authority spokesman Daniel Senor, who did not respond to requests by telephone and e-mail for comment and for historical data.
The new data reflect the fact that "the occupation, and the occupation forces, are getting increasingly unpopular," said Jeffrey White, a former Middle Eastern affairs analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. In recent months, he said, "A lot of people, including me, have been getting very pessimistic."
Reflecting that trend, the proportion of Baghdad residents who reported worries about safety has steadily increased: In the new poll, 70 percent named security as the "most urgent issue" they faced, up from 50 percent in January, 60 percent in February and 65 percent a month later.
Overall, 63 percent of those polled said security was the most urgent issue facing Iraq. In addition to Baghdad, the poll was conducted in the northern city of Mosul and the southern cities of Basra, Nasiriyah and Karbala. Some questions also were asked in the troubled western town of Ramadi.
In the poll, which was taken just before the April uprising of the militia led by radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr, a large proportion of Iraqis from the central and southern parts of the country said they backed him, with 45 percent of those in Baghdad saying they support him, and 67 percent in Basra.
Those numbers are striking because the U.S. military and the occupation authority have declared Sadr a public enemy whom they want to kill or capture. The Army has been maneuvering in central Iraq for weeks, occasionally fighting parts of his militia but avoiding a head-on clash in the holy city of Najaf. Yesterday, U.S. tanks and helicopters fought his militia in Karbala.
There were a few bright spots in the poll. The Iraqi police received a 79 percent positive rating, the best of the seven institutions about which questions were asked. The reformed Iraqi army was not far behind, with a 61 percent positive rating.
Those polled were broadly divided on who should appoint the interim government that is supposed to take over limited power from the occupation authority at the end of June. The largest group, 27 percent, said the Iraqi people should appoint the new leaders, while 23 percent said judges should. Only one-tenth of 1 percent said that the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council should name the government, which is supposed to run Iraq until elections are held next year. None said the occupation authority should.
Indicating a general skepticism of foreign involvement in their political future, 83 percent of those polled said that only Iraqis should be involved in supervising the 2005 elections.
The poll's findings appeared consistent with one taken about the same time in Iraq by USA Today, CNN and Gallup, which found that 57 percent of Iraqis wanted foreign troops to leave immediately.
Some senior Pentagon officials have a different view of the situation. "The truth is, the majority of the Iraqi people want democracy in Iraq to succeed and are positive about what the future holds, thanks in large part to the efforts of our servicemen and women," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, said at a Senate hearing yesterday.
A poll released yesterday found that U.S. public opinion on Iraq also is shifting. "For the first time, a majority of Americans -- 51 percent -- say the war is not going well," the Pew Research Center reported. That is double the percentage who said that in January. But the poll said 53 percent of Americans favor keeping troops there until a stable Iraqi government is established.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company