Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Iraqis still think it was worth it

Although some people still try to pretend otherwise, it has long been clear that in 2002-2003 most Iraqis (unlike most non-Iraqi Arabs, most Europeans, and many others) favored the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein & his regime, however ambivalently. Non-Iraqi Arabs, in particular, wanted Iraqis to sacrifice themselves to the last Iraqi for Saddam, but Iraqis overwhelmingly felt otherwise.

Since then, Iraqis have suffered through almost three years of chaos, mismanagement, violence, large-scale unemployment, economic failures, and other problems. They have also been repeatedly polled, and with only one ambiguous possible exception I am aware of, Iraqis have continued to say by decisive margins that, on balance, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was still worth it.

They have now said this again. In a poll conducted in January for WorldPublicOpinion.org by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, Iraqis were asked, among other things:
“Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US-Britain invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?” 77% say it was worth it, while 22% say it was not. [my emphasis]
Polling results should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it is worth pointing out that just about all the relevant data available from the past four years points in the same direction. By itself, of course, the fact that most Iraqis favored the 2003 war and continue to do so is not necessarily a decisive consideration for the rest of us. However, these figures do offer one more reality check for those opponents of the war who have claimed to be acting on behalf of the wishes and well-being of Iraqis. They should find another excuse.

Furthermore, and perhaps more surprisingly:
Overall, 64% of Iraqis say that Iraq is heading in the right direction, while just 36% say it is heading in the wrong direction.
=> On the other hand, not all the results of this poll are encouraging or reassuring for those of us who supported the 2003 Iraq war. It is clear that the Americans long ago wore out their welcome, and most Iraqis would be happy to see US troops leave--though with significant variations in preferred timing. Also, all the opinions expressed in the poll are sharply polarized along ethnic lines. Essentially, the views of the formerly dominant Sunni Arab minority, who account for some 15-20% of the population, are diametrically opposed to those of the other 80-85% of Iraqis.
Ninety-eight percent of Shia and 91% of Kurds say the hardships were worth it, while 83% of Sunnis say they were not.
And in contrast to the expressed optimism of the non-Sunni-Arab majority:
Sunnis, though, are overwhelmingly pessimistic. A remarkable 93% say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
To some extent, reactions of this sort are unsurprising for a formerly dominant minority that has suddenly lost its ruling position and fears for its future security. But if this degree of polarization continues, it obviously holds the potential for catastrophic all-out civil war. That is a political challenge that will have to be solved--if it can indeed be solved--mostly by Iraqis themselves. Meanwhile, we should not abandon them.

--Jeff Weintraub