- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

BAGHDAD — A poll conducted in seven Iraqi cities has found that a narrow majority of Iraqi citizens support the presence of coalition forces in their country, but that two-thirds now feel occupied rather than liberated.

The survey by an Iraqi group, undertaken in cooperation with the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI), was by far the widest yet conducted in postwar Iraq, involving face-to-face interviews with 1,620 persons in Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish population centers.

The samples were accurately weighted for the cities’ size, ethnic and sex composition, said Stephen Moore, an IRI official who worked with the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies to develop the survey.

Just under half those polled (47.2 percent) told interviewers they had considered the coalition forces to be either liberation forces or peacekeepers when they first arrived, but only 19 percent said they still hold that view.

About 46 percent said they felt less safe personally than they did three months ago, while only 23 percent said personal safety was getting better.

Coalition experts said the survey result contradicts all practical indicators in the country, such as the crime rate and the presence of newly trained Iraqi police.

Only 3 percent cited coalition military patrols as the best guarantee of personal safely, compared with 12 percent who listed the Iraqi police. Most said they relied more on their neighbors, friends and family members to give them a feeling of security.

The poll showed that only a small fraction of the population, 9.8 percent, “strongly opposed” the coalition’s presence. Mr. Moore said that suggests the continuing attacks on coalition forces — now averaging about 35 a day — are being conducted by a tiny minority of Iraqis

Mr. Moore also said he was “deeply encouraged” by the support for a future democratic Iraq that emerged from the poll. Choosing their political leader through fair and regular elections was identified as a priority by 95.5 percent of those polled.

“This backs up our own experience here in Iraq, as we hold democracy-building sessions with enthusiastic local people,” Mr. Moore said.

The pollsters declined to break down the results between Sunni and Shi’ite respondents. Most resistance to the coalition has been focused in areas populated by Sunnis, who held a privileged position under ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

However, the rising perception of coalition forces as occupiers was strongest in the two Shi’ite cities polled — Basra and Najaf — where the coalition forces were originally most welcome. The trend was also seen in Erbil and Suleimaniya, two predominantly Kurdish cities in the north. Polling was also done in Baghdad and the mainly Sunni cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

Coalition officials are somewhat baffled by the statistics, saying they have noticed a substantial improvement in public attitudes toward their forces.

“When we’re out in the streets the children and parents typically wave at us and give us the thumbs-up, before we’ve even had a chance to say hello,” said Hilary White, the public affairs officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the south-central provinces.

“I call it the wave test. Even in Fallujah and Ramadi they’re increasingly waving back, which gives us the confidence that things are turning round,” she said in an interview.

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