Wednesday, June 16, 2004

From combined dispatches

An opinion poll commissioned by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) last month found more than half of Iraqis surveyed believe that they would be safer without U.S. forces and that all Americans behave like the U.S. military guards pictured in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos.

The survey, which was not released to the American public, also found radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is surging in popularity as he leads an insurrection against U.S.-led forces, but would still be a distant finisher in an election for Iraqi president. The survey was taken last month.

Iraq’s representative to the United States, Rend al-Rahim, said in Washington yesterday that a premature withdrawal of coalition troops would be “catastrophic” for the country and the region.

While Mrs. al-Rahim agreed that “it appears June 30 cannot come too soon for both sides,” she cautioned that a power turnover should not be accompanied by a military pullout.

“Iraq would descend into anarchy and the country would be delivered into the hands of international terrorists and fanatics,” she said.

“It would be catastrophic,” Mrs. al-Rahim said at a conference in the District sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

In Baghdad, a career foreign service officer who is working for Ambassador L. Paul Bremer’s interim government and helped oversee the CPA’s polling of Iraqis, described the poll results as “pretty grim.”

“While you have to be saddened that our intentions have been misunderstood by a lot of Iraqis, the truth of the matter is they have a strong inclination toward the things that have the potential to bring democracy here,” Donald Hamilton told the Associated Press.

Mr. Hamilton noted the poll found 63 percent of Iraqis believed conditions will improve when an Iraqi interim government takes over June 30, and 62 percent believed it was “very likely” the Iraqi police and army will maintain security without U.S. forces.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “Let’s face it. That’s the goal, to build those up to the point where they can take charge in Iraq and they can maintain security in Iraq.”

The poll was conducted by Iraqis in face-to-face interviews in six cities with people representing the country’s various factions.

Its results conflict with the generally upbeat assessments the Bush administration continues to give Americans.

Just last week, President Bush predicted future generations of Iraqis “will come to America and say, ‘Thank goodness America stood the line and was strong and did not falter in the face of the violence of a few.’ ”

Confidence in the coalition forces stood at 10 percent.

Ninety-two percent of the Iraqis said they considered coalition troops occupiers, while just 2 percent called them liberators.

Nearly half of Iraqis said they felt unsafe in their neighborhoods. And 55 percent of Iraqis reported they would feel safer if U.S. troops immediately left, nearly double the 28 percent who felt that way in January.

Forty-one percent said Americans should leave immediately and 45 percent said they preferred U.S. forces to leave as soon as a permanent Iraqi government is installed.

Frustration over security was made worse this spring by revelations of sexual and physical abuse of Iraqis by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib.

The poll, taken in mid-May shortly after the controversy began, found 71 percent of Iraqis said they were surprised by the humiliating photos and tales of abuse at the hands of Americans, but 54 percent said they believed all Americans behave like the guards.

Anger at Americans was evident in other aspects of the poll, including a rapid rise in popularity for Sheik al-Sadr, the Muslim cleric who has been leading insurgents fighting U.S.-led coalition forces.

The poll reported that 81 percent of Iraqis said they had an improved opinion of Sheik al-Sadr in May from three months earlier, and 64 percent said the acts of his insurgents had made Iraq more unified.

Only 2 percent said they would support Sheik al-Sadr for president, even less than the 3 percent who expressed support for the deposed Saddam Hussein.

CPA polled 1,093 adults selected randomly in six cities — Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Diwaniyah, Hillah and Baquba. It was taken May 14 to 23 and had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. Crucial details on the methodology of CPA’s polling were not provided, including how samples were drawn.

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