- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2005

BAGHDAD — Being a pollster in Iraq can be dangerous work, as dangerous as guarding an oil pipeline, or acting as a security guard.

“In Iraqi society, they’re not used to seeing people knocking on doors asking people what they think about politics and the government,” said a pollster, a former professor of business administration in Baghdad. “That’s why many of my employees have been jailed and beaten.”

The scholarly looking pollster agreed to an interview on the condition that his name and the name of his institute not be published.

He said his employees have faced a battery of abuse. They have been taken hostage by Islamic radicals. They have been beaten and accused of spying for the Americans as well as the insurgents. And they have been outlawed by militia groups in both the Kurdish north and the Shi’ite south.

Once, while conducting a poll about consumer habits, a man grabbed his pollster at gunpoint and held him for the police.

“The guy thought that this was a new way to know what they have in the house — whether they have cars, whether they have satellite, a dish — so that thieves can later come to steal them,” the pollster said.

The pollster and several colleagues founded the firm shortly after the fall of the Ba’ath Party regime and the start of the U.S.-led occupation, which he opposed.

“We decided to dedicate our work, our scientific experience, to raise the voice of Iraqis,” he said.

Soon, international press organizations, foreign governments, aid agencies and Iraqi political parties began paying him $40,000 to $50,000 per survey.

He said the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, which is overseeing tomorrow’s vote, refused an offer to do exit polling, arguing that any discrepancies between his numbers and final results could weaken confidence in the vote.

He refused to detail his most recent polls on political attitudes.

He predicted that the Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, which has the blessing of Iraq’s highest religious authority, would win the most votes, though not a majority.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s ticket would come in second, though it had been picking up steam in recent weeks, the pollster said.

The Kurdish ticket also would score well, he predicted.

All other parties, he said, would fare poorly, with none gaining more than 3 percent of the vote.

A recent poll predicted that 66 percent of Iraqis were likely to vote, but he said turnout would be lower. He compared the likelihood of Iraqis turning up to the polls to a passerby helping during a mugging.

“In your heart and in your mind, you might tell yourself you will help the weak man,” he said. “But when it comes down to it, you probably won’t because it will create problems for you.”

As Iraq sank into violence, the work of polling became more dangerous. Iraqi authorities thought his employees were gathering data for the insurgents.

“They accused us of being terrorists,” he said.

The insurgents have caused him a lot of trouble, he said. A month ago, two of his employees were beaten nearly fatally in the city of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, he said. Another pair reportedly was kidnapped by a resistance group in a Sunni Triangle town recently. They were freed only when the pollster agreed never to send his workers there again.

“The armed groups thought that we were spies, that we were spying either for the government or the Americans,” he said.

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