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Jewish World Review
Oct. 31, 2006
/ 9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5767
The latest Iraqi polling, this time
Debra J. Saunders
I screwed up. In my Thursday column, "Iraqis more upbeat than Californians," I cited a PIPA poll of Iraqis, but I used the January numbers, not numbers from the most recent poll, conducted in September. The new numbers support my arguments, but less so. Or as Clay Ramsay, the PIPA research director, kindly noted in an e-mail requesting a correction, "Apart from this problem, I do think there are a number of important questions in the September poll that support your general argument."
Consider this column a correction.
One point no longer holds. Most Iraqis are no longer upbeat: 47 percent now say Iraq is heading in the right direction, as compared to 64 percent in January. Note, however, that 47 percent of Iraqis beats the 44 percent of Californians who told the Public Policy Institute of California that the state is heading in the right direction.
The Washington Post was correct to report that 71 percent of Iraqis want their government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year 37 percent within six months and 34 percent "gradually" according to a one-year time line. That doesn't quite match headlines that announced Iraqis want U.S. troops out "now."
Add those who support a one-year withdrawal plan with the 20 percent who want a gradual withdrawal within two years and 9 percent say they want to reduce U.S.-led forces as the security situation improves, and you could say that the poll found that 63 percent of Iraqis support a gradual withdrawal. If that figure is stretching it, it also is more than stretching it to say that the poll found the Iraqis want an "immediate" pullout, as the Post headline announced.
The majority of Iraqis still answer, despite all the hardships they have experienced since the U.S.-British invasion, that they personally believe ousting Saddam Hussein was "worth it." The latest number is 61 percent 81 percent of Kurds, 75 percent of Shia Arabs and 11 percent of Sunnis although the overall number is down from 77 percent in January. As Brookings Institution Director of Research Kenneth M. Pollack noted at a press conference on the poll last month, many Iraqis believe "living in Saddam Hussein's Iraq was like living on hell on earth."
I have to wonder if there is a strategic element to some Iraqi answers. I wonder if some respondents say they want U.S.-led troops out within a year, not necessarily because they believe a withdrawal would be in the nation's best interests, but to send a message that they do not want U.S. troops to remain forever. It is interesting to note the steep decrease in the percentage of Sunnis who want American troops out within six months from 83 percent to 57 percent. As Pollack noted, "The Sunni leadership are the ones who are increasingly coming around and hinting sotto voce, we don't really mind you guys staying."
Some Iraqi answers certainly contradict other Iraqi answers. Of the 61 percent of Iraqis who approve of attacks on U.S.-led troops, only half said they want U.S. troops out of Iraq within six months, according to PIPA director Steven Kull. That just doesn't make sense.
One answer, Ramsay noted, clearly is not strategic. Iraqis 77 percent of those polled firmly believe that the U.S. government plans to retain permanent military bases in their country, and they don't like it. The folks at PIPA believe many Iraqis support attacks on U.S. troops because Iraqis want to put pressure on Washington to pull out. Only 20 percent of Iraqis said they believed the United States would withdraw troops within six months if asked to leave by the Iraqi government, while 78 percent U.S. troops would not withdraw.
Imagine the disastrous consequences that would follow if Washington set a withdrawal timetable such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein's suggestion to The Chronicle editorial board that all troops be out by the end of 2007 but then overstayed the timetable because the Iraqi government could not survive. U.S. troops would have to bear the brunt of renewed Iraqi furor.
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© 2006, Creators Syndicate