Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A clear majority of Iraqis said they plan to vote in the Jan. 30 elections and remain hopeful about their country’s future despite a murderous insurgency, according to a poll to be released today.

The countrywide survey, conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI), also found increased popular awareness of the election, closer identification with political parties and a growing level of trust in Iraqi institutions such as the interim government, the police and the election commission.

“What you see is a very, very substantial majority throughout the country, including in the Sunni areas, that wants to make this election a success and to get this whole period behind them,” John Anelli, IRI regional director for Iraq, said from Baghdad yesterday.

“There’s an overwhelming desire for normality, and a large majority sees this vote as a positive step in that direction,” he said.

Overall, 81.7 percent of those polled said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to vote.

Strong majorities in Shi’ite Muslim southern Iraq, in Baghdad and in the Kurdish-dominated north said they intend to vote.

Even in Sunni Arab lands — the heart of the resistance to the U.S.-based interim government — 53.5 percent of those surveyed said they were leaning toward voting, while 38.4 percent said they were “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to vote. The remainder said they did not know or gave no answer.

But the violence had its effect on the IRI poll itself. The survey excluded the largely Sunni provinces of Dohuk and Nineveh, because it was judged too dangerous to conduct interviews there. Nineveh includes Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city.

Mr. Anelli said including the two provinces almost certainly would have dragged down the overall positive results, but only by about four to five percentage points at the most.

The survey, the fifth IRI has conducted in the past year in Iraq, was based on 1,903 face-to-face interviews conducted between Dec. 26 and Jan. 7. The overall margin of error for the survey was three percentage points.

IRI is an independent nonprofit group funded through the federal National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Agency for International Development and private contributions. IRI works in Iraq and about 60 other countries to promote democratic institutions.

The poll was concluded before the latest spate of terrorist attacks that apparently were aimed at derailing the vote. Iraqis will vote for a transitional parliament to draft a new constitution and prepare for the election of a permanent government by December.

Just yesterday, operatives linked to al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi detonated three car bombs in Baghdad alone, killing 26.

U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte, speaking to reporters in Baghdad yesterday, said the United States is actively encouraging Sunni Arabs to participate in the vote, despite the campaign of violence and intimidation.

“We basically made the argument that it’s about democracy,” he said. “Why would you exclude yourself from a process that is going to write a constitution [and] help shape the political future of your country?”

Mr. Anelli said, “There’s no question the government still has work to do to convince more Sunnis to participate, especially on the security side.”

Other major findings of the IRI survey include:

• 48.6 percent of those polled said Iraq is “generally headed in the right direction,” compared with 39.2 percent who said the country was going in the wrong direction. The rest, 12.2 percent, said they did not know or gave no answer.

Regional divisions on the question were stark: Nearly 70 percent of Iraq’s Kurds gave a positive answer, but just 14.7 percent of those in predominantly Sunni areas did.

• A majority of Iraqis think the country’s fledgling institutions, including the police, the interim government and the commission organizing the Jan. 30 vote are very or somewhat effective.

The poll did not ask about individual candidates and parties, but 61.7 percent gave Prime Minister Iyad Allawi a positive or somewhat positive review for his performance since taking office last year.

• Despite problems, 52.3 percent of those polled said they thought the country will be in better shape in six months than it is today. About 60 percent expect conditions to improve in one year and 64.9 percent say they are optimistic about Iraq in five years.

• Nearly half of those polled — 45 percent — say they now support or identify strongly with one of the dozens of political parties running in the election, a threefold increase since May.

• A bare majority thinks that religion should be kept out of the new government, but a sizable minority (41.7 percent) agreed with the statement: “Religion has a special role to play in the government.”

• 56.6 percent could name the date of the election, and 38 percent correctly said the vote would be for a transitional national assembly — both substantial increases in voter awareness compared with previous surveys.

• The leading reasons given by those not planning to vote included the uncertain security situation (33.4 percent); organized campaigns to boycott the election (12.3 percent); and a lack of knowledge of the candidates and parties (7 percent).

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