Most Iraqis Favor Immediate U.S. Pullout,
Polls Show Leaders' Views Out of Step With Public
September 27, 2006
By Amit R. Paley Washington Post Staff Writer
BAGHDAD, Sept. 26 -- A strong majority of Iraqis want
U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from
the country, saying their swift departure would make
Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence,
according to new polls by the State Department and
In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of
residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and
other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of
those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to
State Department polling results obtained by The
Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday
by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the
University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis
questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign
forces to depart within a year. By large margins,
though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would
refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled
saying the United States intends keep permanent
military bases in the country.
The stark assessments, among the most negative
attitudes toward U.S.-led forces since they invaded
Iraq in 2003, contrast sharply with views expressed by
the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Last
week at the United Nations, President Jalal Talabani
said coalition troops should remain in the country
until Iraqi security forces are "capable of putting an
end to terrorism and maintaining stability and
"Only then will it be possible to talk about a
timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational
forces from Iraq," he said.
Recent polls show many Iraqis in nearly every part of
the country disagree.
"Majorities in all regions except Kurdish areas state
that the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) should
withdraw immediately, adding that the MNF-I's departure
would make them feel safer and decrease violence,"
concludes the 20-page State Department report, titled
"Iraq Civil War Fears Remain High in Sunni and Mixed
Areas." The report was based on 1,870 face-to-face
interviews conducted from late June to early July.
The Program on International Policy Attitudes poll,
which was conducted over the first three days of
September for WorldPublicOpinion.org, found that
support among Sunni Muslims for a withdrawal of all
U.S.-led forces within six months dropped to 57 percent
in September from 83 percent in January.
"There is a kind of softening of Sunni attitudes toward
the U.S.," said Steven Kull, director of PIPA and
editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org. "But you can't go so
far as to say the majority of Sunnis don't want the
U.S. out. They do. They're just not quite in the same
hurry as they were before."
The PIPA poll, which has a margin of error of 3
percent, was carried out by Iraqis in all 18 provinces
who conducted interviews with more than 1,000 randomly
selected Iraqis in their homes.
Using complex sampling methods based on data from
Iraq's Planning Ministry, the pollsters selected
streets on which to conduct interviews. They then
contacted every third house on the left side of the
road. When they selected a home, the interviewers then
collected the names and birth dates of everyone who
lived there and polled the person with the most recent
Matthew Warshaw, a senior research manager at D3
Systems, which helped conduct the poll, said he didn't
think Iraqis were any less likely to share their true
opinions with pollsters than Americans. "It's a concern
you run up against in Iowa or in Iraq," he said. "But
for the most part we're asking questions that people
want to give answers to. People want to have their
The greatest risk, he said, was the safety of the
interviewers. Two pollsters for another Iraqi firm were
recently killed because of their work.
The State Department report did not give a detailed
methodology for its poll, which it said was carried out
by an unnamed Iraqi polling firm. Lou Fintor, a
spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said he
could not comment on the public opinion surveys.
The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke
on condition of anonymity because he feared being
killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last
month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were
questioned favored an immediate withdrawal. Eight-five
percent of Sunnis in that poll supported an immediate
withdrawal, a number virtually unchanged in the past
two years, except for the two months after the Samarra
bombing, when the number fell to about 70 percent, the
poll director said.
"The very fact that there is such a low support for
American forces has to do with the American failure to
do basically anything for Iraqis," said Mansoor
Moaddel, a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan
University, who commissioned a poll earlier this year
that also found widespread support for a withdrawal.
"It's part of human nature. People respect authority
and power. But the U.S. so far has been unable to
establish any real authority."
Interviews with two dozen Baghdad residents in recent
weeks suggest one central cause for Iraqi distrust of
the Americans: They believe the U.S. government has
deliberately thrown the country into chaos.
The most common theory heard on the streets of Baghdad
is that the American military is creating a civil war
to create an excuse to keep its forces here.
"Do you really think it's possible that America -- the
greatest country in the world -- cannot manage a small
country like this?" Mohammad Ali, 42, an unemployed
construction worker, said as he sat in his friend's
electronics shop on a recent afternoon. "No! They have
not made any mistakes. They brought people here to
destroy Iraq, not to build Iraq."
As he drew on a cigarette and two other men in the
store nodded in agreement, Ali said the U.S. government
was purposely depriving the Iraqi people of
electricity, water, gasoline and security, to name just
some of the things that most people in this country
"They could fix everything in one hour if they wanted!"
he said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis.
Mohammed Kadhem al-Dulaimi, 54, a Sunni Arab who used
to be a professional soccer player, said he thought the
United States was creating chaos in the country as a
pretext to stay in Iraq as long as it has stayed in
"All bad things that are happening in Iraq are just
because of the Americans," he said, sipping a tiny cup
of sweet tea in a cafe. "When should they leave? As
soon as possible. Every Iraqi will tell you this."
Many Iraqi political leaders, on the other hand, have
been begging the Americans to stay, especially since
the February bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in
Samarra, which touched off the current round of
sectarian reprisal killings between Sunnis and Shiites.
The most dramatic about-face came from Sunni leaders,
initially some of the staunchest opponents to the U.S.
occupation, who said coalition forces were the only
buffer preventing Shiite militias from slaughtering
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the outspoken Sunni speaker of
parliament who this summer said that "the U.S.
occupation is the work of butchers," now supports the
U.S. military staying in Iraq for as long as a decade.
"Don't let them go before they have corrected what they
have done," he said in an interview this month. "They
should stay for four years. This is the minimum. Maybe
Particularly in mixed neighborhoods here in the
capital, some Sunnis say the departure of U.S. forces
could trigger a genocide. Hameed al-Kassi, 24, a recent
college graduate who lives in the Yarmouk district of
Baghdad, worried that rampages by Shiite militias could
cause "maybe 60 to 70 percent of the Sunnis to be
killed, even the women, old and the young."
"There will be lakes of blood," Kassi said. "Of course
we want the Americans to leave, but if they do, it will
be a great disaster for us."
In a barbershop in the capital's Karrada district
Tuesday afternoon, a group of men discussed some of the
paradoxical Iraqi opinions of coalition troops. They
recognized that the departure of U.S.-led forces could
trigger more violence, and yet they harbored deep-
rooted anger toward the Americans.
"I really don't like the Americans who patrol on the
street. They should all go away," said a young boy as
he swept up hair on the shop's floor. "But I do like
the one who guards my church. He should stay!"
Sitting in a neon-orange chair as he waited for a
haircut, Firas Adnan, a 27-year-old music student,
said: "I really don't know what I want. If the
Americans leave right now, there is going to be a
massacre in Iraq. But if they don't leave, there will
be more problems. From my point of view, though, it
would be better for them to go out today than
He paused for a moment, then said, "We just want to go
back and live like we did before."
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