- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Iraqis have a decided interest in a strong central government, and, despite escalating violence over the past year, are not chafing at the bit to divide the country through civil war, according to a poll conducted for WorldPublicOpinion.org by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. Only 37 percent of Iraqis thought that the central government was too strong, while 35 percent believed it had too little authority, according to the survey. Even among Sunnis, a majority (53 percent) believe that the current central government has either the right amount of power or too little power. Among Kurds, a strong majority favored a strong central government; only 34 percent of Kurds thought that the central government had too much power — the smallest percentage, in fact, of any of the three groups.

One factor fueling support for a strong government is the compelling majority from all three groups that preferred a government capable of suppressing militias. Seventy-seven percent overall wanted an end to the militias — a repudiation of the idea that Iraqis are in favor of turning to militias to guarantee their safety.

Sunnis, as expected, are displeased with the current, Shi’ite-dominated government. Almost half had a very unfavorable opinion of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while only 14 percent had a favorable opinion. Confidence in police and interior ministry forces were capable of ensuring security was also quite low among Sunnis, but overall the majority of Iraqis expressed at least some confidence in both institutions, as well as in the Maliki government. While 76 percent of Kurds and 82 percent of Shi’ites believed the Iraqi government legitimately represented the Iraqi people, only 13 percent of Sunnis agreed with that view. Nevertheless, if the militias were to disarm, 93 percent of Sunnis said they believed they could rely on the government to protect their safety, emphasizing Sunni support for a strong central government in principle.

Other parts of the survey are not so optimistic. The poll confirms critical divisions between Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites and reveals a generally negative view of the role U.S. troops are serving in Iraq. On the latter point, overall public opinion is that U.S. military presence provokes more conflict than it prevents (78 percent), with only the majority of Kurds agreeing that the United States is a stabilizing force. But while the poll does reveal that the outlook on the direction in which the country is headed is less positive than it was in January, most Shi’ites (59 percent) and Kurds (64 percent) still consider Iraq to be headed in the right direction.

Asked if they thought Iraq would be a single state after five years, the overwhelming majority (72 percent) of those polled — including 80 percent of Shi’ites, 65 percent of Kurds and 56 percent of Sunnis — believed it was very likely or somewhat likely that it would. The survey shows both that the majority of Iraqis prefer a strong government to a decentralized, federalist system, and that the deteriorating security situation has not caused Iraqis to loose all confidence in the Maliki government.

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