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New Poll Says Iraq is Defining How Arabs View US, Rest of World


According to a public opinion poll taken in six Middle Eastern countries, the conflict in Iraq is playing a major role in how the Arab world views the United States and the rest of the world.

One of those involved in the poll, University of Maryland Middle East expert Shibley Telhami, told a Washington news conference that the results of the poll, taken in October, should worry the United States. "Arabs are looking at the world through the prism of Iraq. That is a new prism and it's a troubling prism from the point of view of the U.S., because it's not a good prism for the United States of America today, and that explains a lot of the troubling answers from the point of view of American foreign policy," he said.

Mr. Telhami conducted the survey jointly with the U.S.-based polling group Zogby International. They interviewed a total of 39-hundred people in six countries -- Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The margin of error was 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent in all the countries, except the United Arab Emirates, where it was 6.8 percent.

A majority of the respondents said they view Israel and the United States as the biggest threats to their nations, and while the United States says spreading democracy in the Middle East is its major goal there, most of those surveyed believe the United States' main objective in Iraq is oil -- not democracy.

Eighty-one percent said they think the war has brought less peace to the Middle East, while 77 percent said they believe the people of Iraq are worse off now than before the war. "Iraq is defining in some ways how people view the world, and particularly how they view the U.S., in a similar way that the Arab-Israeli conflict for a long time has defined the outlook of Arabs toward the U.S. and toward the rest of the world," he said.

Mr. Telhami said 36 percent of the respondents sympathize with al-Qaida in confronting the United States, but most do not support how the terror group operates or would want to see someone like terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in power. "There's a vacuum of leadership in the Middle East, and they win by the default, they gain by default, not because people like them," he said. "And that tells me that they see them as an instrument of anti-Americanism, but none of them would love to see Zarqawi be their ruler. None of them would like to see the kind of Taleban order that was imposed on Afghanistan in the Arab world."

Forty-five percent said the Arabic language television network Al Jazeera is their main choice for international news. Mr. Telhami says the network has tapped into the sentiment of the Arab world. "The media outlet that reads the public opinion best is the one that is going to do well, because people respond to media outlets that reflect their heart and reflect their views far more than they allow the media to shape their views," he said.

There was no immediate U.S. reaction to the poll. President Bush has continually defended the war in Iraq and efforts to establish democracy there, amid increasing criticism from U.S. members of Congress and declining American public support. Wednesday, Mr. Bush said he would not set a timetable for withdrawal, saying American troops will remain there until Iraqi forces are able to defend themselves.

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