- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Iraq’s restive Sunni Arabs overwhelmingly reject the legitimacy of the new government in Baghdad, approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces and think the country is heading in the wrong direction, according to a major new poll.

The survey, conducted in the first week of January after the successful Dec. 15 parliamentary vote, found that Iraq’s Shi’ite Arabs and ethnic Kurds remain far more optimistic about the country’s future compared with the minority Sunnis, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The “remarkable divisions” found in the poll show that the “challenge to make the Sunnis feel a part of the political process is as strong as ever,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which conducted the poll.

The survey of 1,150 Iraqis in all 18 of the country’s provinces was conducted Jan. 2 to Jan. 5 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.

The poll results offered both good and bad news for the Bush administration. The Dec. 15 vote produced a spike of optimism among Iraqi Shi’ites and Kurds, while Sunnis continue to reject the legitimacy of the new government being formed in Baghdad.

About 77 percent of Kurds judged the vote to be free and fair, as did 89 percent of the Shi’ites polled. Five percent of Sunnis approved of the vote.

Ninety-two percent of Sunnis say the new government will be illegitimate, while 81 percent of Kurds and 90 percent Shi’ites think it will be legitimate.

More generally, large majorities of Kurds and Shi’ites think the country is “generally headed in the right direction,” while 6 percent of Sunnis share that optimism.

More problematic for all elements of Iraqi society is the presence and intentions of U.S.-led forces in the country. At least two-thirds of the three major groups say that the Pentagon plans to establish permanent bases in Iraq, and that Washington will not withdraw those troops even if asked by the new government.

Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said the negative attitudes toward the U.S. military mission mirror “profound mistrust” across the Arab world about U.S. intentions in the region.

Nearly half of the Iraqis polled — 47 percent — said they strongly or somewhat approved of attacks on U.S. forces. Eighty-eight percent of Sunnis said they approved of the attacks, but so did 41 percent of Shi’ites.

The high level of support for the attacks comes despite pervasive doubts that Iraq’s security forces will be able to maintain order in the short term without U.S. or international help.

Mr. Kull said the contradictory findings may reflect Iraqi hopes that the attacks will pressure the United States and its allies to set a firm date for withdrawing, while keeping foreign troops in the country for now to provide security.

Kenneth Pollack, director of research at the Saban Center, said Iraqis may not actively support strikes against U.S. troops but understand the economic and security frustrations that lead the insurgents to act.

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