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New Poll: Most Iraqis Now View US as 'Occupier' - 2003-11-18


In Iraq, a new opinion poll, conducted by an independent Iraqi research group shows an increasing number of people view coalition forces as occupiers rather than liberators.

Pollsters at the newly established Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in Baghdad conducted more than 1,600 face-to-face interviews in seven major cities in late September and early October.

The founder of the center, Sadoun Al-Dulame, is an Iraqi university professor who spent years in exile during Saddam Hussein's regime.

He said the new survey shows a much more negative Iraqi attitude toward coalition forces than his first survey showed. The first poll was taken a month after U.S. forces captured Baghdad in April. "When the American troops, the first time they arrived in Iraq, most of the Iraqis perceived them as liberating forces. But after six months, most of the Iraqi people look at them as occupying forces," he said.

Six months ago, nearly 43 percent of the Iraqis polled said that they viewed coalition forces as liberators. Now, according to the survey, that number has plummeted to less than 15 percent.

The biggest drop occurred in the mainly Shiite Muslim city of Najaf in central Iraq. There, the number of people who view coalition forces as liberators has gone down from 53 percent in May to less than five percent now.

Mr. Dulame's survey reached the same conclusion the U.S. State Department's intelligence branch reached last month from its own classified opinion poll. That survey reportedly was part of a recent top-secret report by the Central Intelligence Agency suggesting that ordinary Iraqis were losing faith in the American-led efforts to rebuild Iraq. A political science professor at the Baghdad University, Abdul Jabbar Ahmed Abdullah, said he believes what has changed the people's minds in the past six months is the growing Iraqi perception that coalition forces, particularly the U.S. military, do not understand or respect Iraq's culture. "It is a traditional culture. This point is very important for the American government to take into consideration. The American government is looking at Iraq from their viewpoint while they should be looking to Iraq from the Iraqi viewpoint," he said.

Mr. Abdullah argues that while the U.S. military's tactic of raiding private homes may help root out insurgents and weapons, it has also helped alienate many Iraqis who do not approve of such actions.

Another contributing factor to the growing Iraqi resentment could be the widely held belief that most U.S. troops view the Iraqi people with suspicion and hostility. On the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere, even the most minor tales of American mistreatment of Iraqis routinely get passed from person to person.

Mr. Abdullah says such stories frequently become more and more exaggerated each time they are retold and the truth is often obscured. But the professor says the Iraqi people believe much of what they hear anyway.

Those mistaken beliefs are then reinforced when American soldiers do make mistakes and injure or kill innocent civilians.

Back at the research center, Sadoun Al-Dulame says he also believes the coalition is having difficulty winning the hearts and minds of the people here because Iraqis had been expecting far more economic benefits from the Americans than they have received so far.

Mr. Dulame said when the Iraqis saw how easily the U.S. military was able to remove Saddam from power, they believed the United States could also quickly and easily fix the country's badly broken infrastructure. "The Iraqi people said we don't believe that a great power like America is not able to fix the electricity or water within three or four months. That's what the Iraqi people said. If [the United States] help the Iraqi people solve their every day life problems, they will accept them," he said.

Professor Abdullah agrees. But he says even among Iraqis who complain most bitterly about American failures, there is still a sense of satisfaction that some things have changed for the better in Iraq.

In many communities, coalition forces have helped restore basic services, rebuild schools and hospitals. They have helped set up forums where ordinary Iraqis can voice their opinions and participate in a political process.

But Mr. Abdullah said most ordinary Iraqis are becoming tired of being victims of the spiraling violence in Iraq, violence they believe will continue to worsen as long as U.S. troops stay in their country. "This doesn't mean we hate the government of the United States. No. We say we need government for the Iraqi people, not American military in our streets," he said.

Asked in the survey whether coalition forces patrolling in their neighborhoods made them feel safe, only three percent of the respondents said yes.

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