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2007 September 08 Saturday
Secularism Making Gains In Iraq?

Secularism is making some gains in Iraq but the Shiites are at best luke warm toward democracy.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—With the Bush Administration's progress report on Iraq due by Sept. 15, a new survey of nationally representative samples of the Iraqi population shows a continuation of two trends that give some reason for optimism about the future of that battle-scarred country: A continued shift away from political Islam among Sunnis and Kurds and a shift toward Iraqi nationalism among majority Shiites.

Those are the key findings from a July 2007 survey of 7,732 Iraqis, the fifth in a series, according to Mansoor Moaddel, a sociology professor at Eastern Michigan University and a research affiliate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).

What I wonder: Would the people in the Bush Administration reality distortion zone see these results as good news or bad news? After all, George W. Bush calls Islam a religion of peace (though it is really a religion of dominance and submission) and Bush seems to think beliefs based on faith are better regardless of which faith we are talking about. So while secularism is a force that would make Iraqis less likely to join religious militias and plant bombs Bush might prefer a more religious Iraq.

Slightly over half the Iraqis identify themselves as Shiites.

Moaddel has been working with U-M colleagues and a private Iraqi research group, the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, on a series of face-to-face surveys of nationally representative samples of the Iraqi population. Previous surveys were conducted in December 2004, April and October 2006, and March 2007.

In the July survey, 53 percent of those interviewed identified themselves as Shiites, 26 percent as Sunnis, 16 percent as Kurds and 5 percent as Muslims. Those who identified themselves as Muslim only declined to claim identity with a specific Islamic sect.

But get this: The majority Shiites are far less supportive of democracy than the Sunnis and Kurds. We have empowered the group in Iraq most opposed to democracy and most supportive of religious rule.

A majority of the Sunnis (54 percent) and Kurds (65 percent) said that it was "very important" to have a government that makes law according to the people's wishes, while a much smaller percentage of the Shiites (34 percent) thought so. On the other hand, only a minority of the Sunnis (14 percent) and the Kurds (18 percent) said that it was "very important" to have a government that implements only the Shari'a (Islamic law). This percentage was higher among the Shiites (27 percent). In the country as a whole, 71 percent of Iraqis said that it was "very important" or "somewhat important" for the government to make laws according to the people's wishes, compared with 51 percent who said that the same about implementing the shari'a only.

"The Kurds and the Sunnis dislike religious regimes," said Moaddel, "while the Shiites have a problem with secular politics."

It seems unfair to me to force the Kurds and Sunnis to live under Shia religious rule. But it also seems foolish and counterproductive for US interests to keep US troops in Iraq. But we'll have to wait for the next Presidential election for the US presence in Iraq to reach a conclusion.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 08 02:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 June 20 Tuesday
Iraqis Becoming More Anti-American And Nationalistic

Nothing like a common object of hatred to bring people together.

Over the last two years, Iraqi political values have become more secular and nationalistic, even though attitudes toward Americans have deteriorated, according to surveys of nationally representative samples of the population conducted in November 2004 and April 2006.

The Iraqi surveys, part of the ongoing World Values Surveys, are a collaborative project between the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and Eastern Michigan University.

The percentage of Iraqis who said they would not want to have Americans as neighbors rose from 87 percent in 2004 to 90 percent in 2006. When asked what they thought were the three main reasons why the United States invaded Iraq, 76 percent gave "to control Iraqi oil" as their first choice.

They do not like us. So why should our soldiers die for them?

Support for separation of religion and government has risen. But in elections Iraqis overwhelmingly vote for religious parties.

But at the same time, significantly more Iraqis support democratic values, including the separation of religion and politics.

In 2004, 27 percent of the 2,325 Iraqi adults surveyed strongly agreed that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated. In 2006, 41 percent of 2,701 adults surveyed strongly agreed.

The increase in those who see themselves as Muslims rather than Sunnis or Shias still leaves only a small percentage who see themselves that way.

In one indication of a possible lessening of sectarian conflict, the proportion of Iraqis who identified themselves as Muslim Arabs rather than as Shi'a or Sunni Arabs increased from 6 percent in 2004 to 14 percent in 2006.

The percentage of those surveyed who agreed with the statement "I am an Iraqi above all" rose from 23 percent in 2004 to 28 percent in 2006 in the country as a whole, from 23 percent to 33 percent in urban areas, and from 30 percent to 62 percent among Baghdad residents.

Maybe the Kurds and Sunnis will form an alliance against the majority Shiites and the Shia death squads will increase the perception among Sunni Arabs that they need to make common cause with the Kurds for mutual protection and better leverage.

Despite increased political violence between the Shi'as and the Sunnis, the researchers found no significant change in the overall level of inter-ethnic trust among Iraqis. While trust between the Shi'as and the Sunnis declined, trust between the Sunnis and the Kurds increased between 2004 and 2006.

Along with an increase in xenophobia, the survey found a growing sense of powerlessness, pessimism about the future and insecurity. Among Iraqis as a whole, 59 percent of those surveyed in 2006 strongly agreed with the following statement: "In Iraq these days life is unpredictable and dangerous." That compares to 46 percent who strongly agreed in 2004.

"This change varied among ethnic groups, with the biggest change among Kurds," Moaddel said. "Only 17 percent strongly agreed that life was unpredictable and dangerous in 2004, but 54 percent strongly agreed in 2006."

This change was from 41 percent to 48 percent among Shi'as, 77 percent to 84 percent among Sunnis and 67 percent to 79 percent among Muslims.

My guess is that if the United States pulled out then the Shia and Sunni Arabs would shift more toward seeing themselves primarily as Shias and Sunnis.

Update: We should ask the Iraqi government to hold a referendum on whether our troops should stay. Then we could leave in responses to the popular will of the democracy lovers of Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2006 June 20 10:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2005 October 24 Monday
Iraq In Civil War As Poll Shows 82% Of Iraqis Want Coalition Troops Out

Past and potentially future Prime Minister of Iraq Iyad Allawi says Iraq is in a civil war.

Closely allied to the United States and British governments, Mr Allawi, 60, is the most senior Iraqi politician to have said that civil war has become a reality.

His comments, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, will cause deep concern in Washington and London. "This is one of the stages of civil war we are right in now," he said. "What you have is killings, assassinations, militias, a stagnant economy, no services. With the help of the world, we must try to avoid moving further and deeper into these stages."

He said that while suicide bombs grabbed the headlines, the murder of Sunnis by Shia groups and vice versa was more significant and ominous. "On a daily basis there are assassinations and liquidations. In Jordan, I was told that the official figures of Iraqi students trying to move to Jordanian universities is 14,000. We have an exodus of doctors from Iraq. These are all the ingredients of much wider problems."

Shiite security forces are operating death squads against Sunnis.

BAGHDAD -- Britain's envoy in Baghdad urged the Shiite-led Iraqi government yesterday to mount an inquiry into reports that its security forces are operating clandestine death squads against minority Sunnis.

The call by Ambassador William Patey came after a week in which a journalist for a British newspaper was abducted by men driving a police car (he was later released) and a defence lawyer in the Saddam Hussein trial was shot dead by men claiming to be from the Interior Ministry.

The absence of Sunnis in Iraq's southern city Basra has not prevented a decline into lawlessness. Basra is controlled by Shiite militias and the chief of police does not trust most of his police force.

Once a relaxed riverside getaway, Basra has slipped under the rule of fundamentalist Shiite militias with strong ties to Iran. The city has only 2,500 to 3,000 police officers, and several times that number in the province, while estimates of militia ranks have reached as high as 13,000 in Basra and its environs.

In recent months, lethal attacks on British forces and other rising violence in the city — including the murders of an Iraqi employee of The New York Times, Fakher Haider, and of a New York journalist, Steven Vincent — have shattered a convenient myth: that no matter how brutal the Sunni insurgency became, the Shiites in Basra would keep the city relatively peaceful, overseen by the soft touch of British forces.

So much for the theory that only the Sunnis are a problem.

The British are increasingly attacked by the Shiite militias.

And new details of last week's violence have highlighted what many long suspected: Basra has fallen under the control of a cabal of renegade police commanders who have enforced a reign of terror in the city.

It was these commanders, with close ties to radical Shia militias, who held the two SAS soldiers in their headquarters at Basra's Jameat police station and probably orchestrated the violence that followed.

British soldiers involved in the operation to rescue the two men say they were surrounded by up to 3,000 demonstrators.

They were then attacked by a well co-ordinated core of between 500 and 1,000 who damaged 13 Warriors, setting eight ablaze with petrol bombs.

Hostility toward British troops around Basra is rapidly increasing.

But in the past 10 days, despite that happy vignette, the cheery "salaam alaikums" that used to greet the soldiers have disappeared. You can feel the hostility in the market.

"The British have turned into terrorists," Fahed Jaber, a trader, said. "They have become Americans. Before, they were our friends; now we see them as occupiers."

This is a view almost universally held in Basra since soldiers stormed a city police station to rescue two SAS troopers arrested last month.

The British Sunday Telegraph has gotten ahold of a secret poll of Iraqis done by the British Ministry of Defence which shows that Iraqis strongly oppose the presence of US and British forces in Iraq and 45% support attacks against US and British troops.

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

How about a popular referendum in Iraq on whether the US and British should pull out? If we are really for respecting the democratic will of the people then shouldn't we abide by the results of such a referendum?

Retired general and former head of the US National Security Agency William E. Odom argues the worst that could happen after a US withdrawal from Iraq is already happening.

If I were a journalist, I would list all the arguments that you hear against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that people say would happen, and then ask: Aren't they happening already? Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things better.

Read Odom's full article. He directly addresses all the major arguments against a US and British withdrawal. I find his case convincing. Though I've been for unilateral withdrawal for a couple of years now.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 24 01:32 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2004 May 25 Tuesday
Popularity Of Muqtada al-Sadr Growing In Iraq

Voice Of America reports on a poll taken in late April in 7 Iraqi provinces which shows strong support for cleric and insurgent militia leader Al-Sadr.

In the survey, conducted by the year-old Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, 32 percent of the respondents said they strongly support the fiercely anti-coalition Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. Another 36 percent said they somewhat support the cleric, even though he is being sought by the coalition for his alleged involvement in the murder of a Shiite rival, who was killed last year.

The poll numbers place the radical cleric among the three most admired figures in the country, behind the top religious authority for the majority Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the political head of one of the largest Shiite parties, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari.

There is no peace-loving "silent majority" in Iraq. The majority support a rebel cleric. Sistani is more popular but Sistani doesn't have a militia for angry frustrated youth to join to get status.

Time reports that young and unemployed Shiites who join the Mahdi Army see Sadr as a defender of Islam against America.

U.S. officials say the Mahdi Army has perhaps 5,000 fighters nationwide, but last Friday there were almost that many in Kufa and nearby Najaf, 6 miles away.


Most are ready to die for al-Sadr because they say he is the only one who dares to stand up for Islam against the Americans.


Since the U.S. came, says Ali, the people have had "no services, no electricity, no water, no work."

Iraq has a fairly young population. Young single unemployed men brought up to see all relationships as high stakes struggles over dominance and submission are going to jump at the opportunity to become dominant males.

If the Bush Administration had been far more aggressive about trying to rebuild and to pull large numbers of Iraqis into paying jobs then at least some of the current violent opposition would not have happened. But an occupation of Iraq was always going to be a very difficult undertaking. There are many reasons why liberal democracy hasn't taken hold in any Arab country. We ignore those reasons at our peril.

Update: In this popularity poll in Iraq notice one person whose name is notably missing from the top 3: Ahmad Chalabi.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 25 12:09 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 October 14 Tuesday
Iraqis Resent And Prefer Continued US Troop Presence

Most residents of Baghdad want US troop presence at least in the near term.

The Gallup poll found that 71 percent of the capital city's residents felt U.S. troops should not leave in the next few months. Just 26 percent felt the troops should leave that soon. However, a sizable minority felt that circumstances could occur in which attacks against the troops could be justified. Almost one in five, 19 percent, said attacks could be justified, and an additional 17 percent said they could be in some situations.

What does it say about the residents of Baghdad that only 26 percent of them want the US troops to leave in the next few months while 19 percent plus 17 percent for a total of 36% can see circumstances under which the troops should be attacked? This seems to indicate a resentment of the troops in combination with an acceptance of their necessity.

The remaining elements of the old regime aren't aiming their guns at the broader Iraqi public any more.

"Sure we're afraid of all these guns on the streets," said Mustafa Salman al-Kaisi, 47, a businessman and oil drilling engineer, who sat waiting for an appointment last week with an Iraqi trader to discuss importing new goods. "But in fact, most of the guns are aimed at the Americans moving around in Humvees."

As long as the US troops are there the Baathists and the Islamists will focus on those troops and most ordinary Iraqis will have the luxury of simultaneously resenting the troops while benefitting from the fact that troop presence effectively means that the Islamists and Baathists won't be coming for them.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 14 02:03 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 September 10 Wednesday
AEI Releases Poll Of Iraqi Political Views

Karl Zinsmeister of the American Enterprise Institute reports on a poll conducted by Zogby International and American Enterprise magazine on the political views of people in Iraq.

Conducted in August, our survey was necessarily limited in scope, but it reflects a nationally representative sample of Iraqi views, as captured in four disparate cities: Basra (Iraq's second largest, home to 1.7 million people, in the far south), Mosul (third largest, far north), Kirkuk (Kurdish-influenced oil city, fourth largest) and Ramadi (a resistance hotbed in the Sunni triangle). The results show that the Iraqi public is more sensible, stable and moderate than commonly portrayed, and that Iraq is not so fanatical, or resentful of the U.S., after all.

  • Iraqis are optimistic. Seven out of 10 say they expect their country and their personal lives will be better five years from now. On both fronts, 32 percent say things will become much better.
  • The toughest part of reconstructing their nation, Iraqis say by 3 to 1, will be politics, not economics. They are nervous about democracy. Asked which is closer to their own view--"Democracy can work well in Iraq," or "Democracy is a Western way of doing things"--five out of 10 said democracy is Western and won't work in Iraq. One in 10 wasn't sure. And four out of 10 said democracy can work in Iraq. There were interesting divergences. Sunnis were negative on democracy by more than 2 to 1; but, critically, the majority Shiites were as likely to say democracy would work for Iraqis as not. People age 18-29 are much more rosy about democracy than other Iraqis, and women are significantly more positive than men.
  • Asked to name one country they would most like Iraq to model its new government on from five possibilities--neighboring, Baathist Syria; neighbor and Islamic monarchy Saudi Arabia; neighbor and Islamist republic Iran; Arab lodestar Egypt; or the U.S.--the most popular model by far was the U.S. The U.S. was preferred as a model by 37 percent of Iraqis selecting from those five--more than Syria, Iran and Egypt put together. Saudi Arabia was in second place at 28 percent. Again, there were important demographic splits. Younger adults are especially favorable toward the U.S., and Shiites are more admiring than Sunnis. Interestingly, Iraqi Shiites, coreligionists with Iranians, do not admire Iran's Islamist government; the U.S. is six times as popular with them as a model for governance.
  • Our interviewers inquired whether Iraq should have an Islamic government, or instead let all people practice their own religion. Only 33 percent want an Islamic government; a solid 60 percent say no. A vital detail: Shiites (whom Western reporters frequently portray as self-flagellating maniacs) are least receptive to the idea of an Islamic government, saying no by 66 percent to 27 percent. It is only among the minority Sunnis that there is interest in a religious state, and they are split evenly on the question.

Click thru to read the rest of the report. The news is encouraging overall. However, there were parts of the poll that were more worrying to me than they were to Zinsmeister. For instance, while 57% of the Iraqi public have an unfavorable view of Osama Bin Laden that implies that a rather large minority of the population likes Bin Laden. Also, even if most rarely if ever attend mosque it is important to keep in mind the threat posed by small highly motivated minorities of religious extremists.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 10 04:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 03 Tuesday
Views Of Baghdadis, US Soldiers Contrasted

Washington Post writers Thomas E. Ricks and Anthony Shadid accompanied a US Army unit on a patrol thru a section of Baghdad. One reporter stayed with the troops and the other (probably Shadid but they do not say) tagged behind asking the Iraqis what they thought of the US miliitary presence. None of the soldiers on the patrol speak Arabic and therefore can form their opinions of what the Iraqis think only from facial expressions and visible actions. There is a gap between the solders' perceptions and the reality of Iraqi views.

Haumschild's evaluation: "Maybe 10 percent are hostile. About 50 percent friendly. About 40 percent are indifferent."

Residents gave different numbers -- at best, 50-50, and at worst, a significant majority holding hostile views. Sentiments often broke down along the religious cleavages that mark Iraq. Shiite residents hailed the Americans for ending Hussein's rule, which was particularly brutal toward their sect. They suspect the Baath Party lingers, ready to reemerge.

"An American dog is better than Saddam and his gangs," said Alaa Rudeini, as he chatted with a friend, Abdel-Razaq Abbas, along the sidewalk.

The language gap is a serious problem. It would make a lot of sense to send someone fluent in Arabic along with each patrol. They'd learn a lot more from the patrols and also could adjust their behavior to avoid giving offense unnecessarily.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 03 11:54 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 15 Sunday
Gauging Anglosphere support for attack on Iraq

Why is George W. Bush working the UN so hard with a speech and lobbying of key UN players? In a nutshell: He's doing it for Tony Blair. British public support for a war on Iraq is heavily contingent on UN backing:

EIGHT out of 10 Britons support UN-backed military action against Iraq if Saddam Hussein refuses to readmit weapons inspectors, a poll has revealed.

The UN support is crucial in their minds:

But in the absence of UN agreement, voters were sceptical about military action – 38% said the US should proceed without it, while 49% were opposed. By nearly two to one – 57% to 34% – people said Britain should not commit troops without UN agreement.

Part of the reason the British public wants a UN vote is because they don't trust Bush. 65% do not trust Bush's decision-making on Iraq. So the Bush American cowboy label promoted by the left-wingers of the British press has certainly stuck in the minds of many British people.

Attitudes in Australia appear to be similar:

An exclusive poll by The Sun-Herald/Taverner Research shows that support for Australian troops taking part in American-led action is surprisingly high.

More than two-thirds of respondents would support deployment of Australian troops to Iraq, but only as part of a UN multilateral force.

A similar number were opposed to any involvement if the US decided to go it alone. More than 50 per cent of respondents said such involvement was "definitely" wrong.

There is irony here. The Australian and British people place less trust in the elected leader of the most free and successful democracy in the world and more trust in an institution whose members are mostly states run by dictators and by democracies which are not really free societies. Out of the UN's 140 members which are nominally democracies only 82 have free presses, independent judiciaries and other institutions essential for a free society.

Wait, I hear you asking, are the UN member state democracies really that bad? The UN Human Development Report 2002 says so:

In theory, the world is more democratic than it has ever been, notes the Report. For example: 140 of the world’s nearly 200 countries now hold multi-party elections. But in practice, only 82, with 57 percent of the world’s people, are fully democratic in guaranteeing human rights, with institutions such as the free press and an independent judiciary. And 106 countries still limit important civil and political freedoms. Of the 81 countries that embraced democracy in the latter part of the 20th Century, the Report points out that only 47 have gone on to become fully functioning democracies. Several have since returned to authoritarian rule: either military, as in Myanmar or Pakistan, or pseudo-democratic, as in Zimbabwe in recent years. National armies have intervened to varying degrees in the political affairs of 13 sub-Saharan States since 1989: nearly one in four countries in the region. Many other countries have got stalled somewhere between democracy and authoritarianism.

So about 40% of the countries hanging out and voting in the UN General Assembly are democracies. Plus, who's the new head of the UN Human Rights Commission? That lover of democracy and human rights, Muammar Kadafy/Ghaddafi/Qadafi (choose your own spelling for his name; this is obviously a guy who believes in freedom of choice).

By Randall Parker    2002 September 15 07:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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