- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

One would never know it from the daily barrage of negative press reports from flashpoints like the Sunni Triangle, but many Iraqis think that the ouster of Saddam Hussein was worth it. According to a Gallup Poll of 1,178 adults in Baghdad, conducted Aug. 28-Sept. 4, 67 percent believe that Iraq will be in better condition five years from now than it was before the U.S.-led military campaign drove Saddam from power in the spring. Only 8 percent, by contrast, believe the country will be worse off. The Gallup survey found that 62 percent believe that ending Saddam’s regime was worth the hardships they have been forced to endure since March. By a margin of more than 2-1, respondents had a positive view of Paul Bremer, the senior U.S. official in the country.

Moreover, the Gallup survey found that a multiparty parliamentary democracy was the first choice of 39 percent of respondents. Just 9.6 percent favored a regime controlled by Muslim religious leaders, as in Iran, and only 5.2 percent backed an Islamic kingdom like that in Saudi Arabia. Iraqis were eager to talk with Gallup’s Baghdad team, and most of those contacted agreed to be interviewed in their homes, said Richard Burkholder, international bureau chief for the Gallup Organization. “The people of Baghdad do seem to be buying into the long-term objectives of democratization and rebuilding” advocated by President Bush, Mr. Burkholder said.

The Gallup survey is at least the second published in the past month demonstrating that many Iraqis are optimistic about the future, are leary of living under an Islamic form of government and want Saddam’s criminal cohorts brought to justice.

In August, the polling firm Zogby International, in conjunction with the American Enterprise magazine, conducted a study of Iraqi popular attitudes in four other Iraqi cities: Basra, the second-largest; Mosul (third); Kirkuk (fourth) and Ramadi, a hotbed of violence in the Sunni Triangle. To be sure, not all of the poll results were positive. For example, Iraqis believe, by a 50 percent to 36 percent margin, that the United States is more likely to hurt than to help Iraq over a five-year period. But this needs to be put into context: By a 53 percent to 21 percent margin, Iraqis said that Iran — perhaps Washington’s No. 1 foe in the region — was more likely to hurt than to help. Seventy percent said that, five years from now, Iraq would be a better country (with 32 percent predicting that it will be much better), while just 21 percent thought it would be worse. Seventy-one percent of Iraqis thought they would personally be better off, with 14 percent predicting they would be worse off. By almost 2-1, Iraqis rejected an Islamic form of government in favor of one which would leave people free to practice their own religion. And, by a 74 percent to 18 percent margin, Iraqis demand that Ba’athists be punished for their crimes.

In short, the data suggest that Iraqis want freedom and are optimistic about their future. The challenge for President Bush and congressional statesmen from both parties is coming up with creative ways to help them make that a reality.

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