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New Iraq poll: US seen as occupier, not libertor


US soldiers are seen as 'uncaring, dangerous and lacking in respect.'


by Tom Regan | csmonitor.com



To get a sense of what Iraqis were thinking a year after the overthrow of former dictator Saddam Hussein, researchers for the Gallup Organization, working with funding from CNN and USA Today, sat down with 3444 Iraqis in March and early April (before the latest outbreaks of violence). They conducted interviews that lasted as long as 70 minutes (often at great personal risk). And what they found does not bode well in the short-term for the US and its allies in Iraq, although it may bode well for the future of Iraq as a democracy.

The survey finds Iraqis mixed on the results of the invasion of Iraq, reports the Washington Post. Forty-two percent of Iraqis say their country is better off, while 46 percent say the US has "done more harm than good" in the past year. The survey also showed significant differences along ethnic/sectarian lines, with Sunnis being strongly negative towards the US-led coalition, Shiites being more positive but growing more negative, while the Kurds in the north were quite supportive of the US (95 percent of Kurds supported the US-led invasion of Iraq).



Other telling findings of the survey were that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis, 71 percent (and that figure rises to 81 percent if the Kurdish areas in the north are excluded), now see the US-led coalition as an occupying force and not as liberators. USA Today reports that a solid majority, almost 60 percent, want the US and its allies to leave immediately, even if it means the security situation will deteriorate.


US troops also took a hit in the survey. They are seen by most Iraqis as "uncaring, dangerous and lacking in respect for the country's people, religion and traditions."


"One specific Iraqi complaint against US troops is the widespread perception ? whether correct or incorrect ? that they have been indiscriminate in their use of force when civilians are nearby," said Gallup's director of international polling, Richard Burkholder.

Except for the Kurds in the north, two-thirds of Iraqis say that US troops "make no attempt to keep ordinary Iraqis from being killed or wounded during exchanges of gunfire," while 60 percent say the troops conducted themselves "badly or very badly."

The Guardian reports that one reason that British commanders, for instance, have refrained from sending more troops to Iraq, especially following the withdrawal of troops from Spain, is that they are wary of "getting sucked into operations determined by heavy-handed American tactics."


They [british commanders]have also made no secret of their concern that British troops operating with the Americans elsewhere in Iraq could cause serious problems for troops in the British-controlled area centred on Basra in southern Iraq. "If we do it we'll do it differently," said a senior defense official, referring to the possible deployment of British soldiers elsewhere in Iraq. "We must be able to fight with the Americans. That does not mean we must fight as the Americans."

In an other incident that called into question the behavior of US troops in Iraq, Wednesday night CBS News showed pictures of alleged abuse against Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. According to the photos, US military police stacked naked Iraqi prisoners in a human pyramid, and "attached wires to one detainee to convince him he might be electrocuted." Last month the US Army announced that six US reservists serving as MPs face a court martial for allegedly abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Also, disciplinary actions has been recommended against the seven senior US officials who help run the prison, including Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski, the commander of the 800th Brigade.

The Baltimore Sun reports that one of the accused reservists, who is pleading not guilty to the charge, said the problem was with the way the prison was run.


"We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things ... like rules and regulations," said [staff Sgt. Chip] Frederick, in a phone call with CBS from Baghdad. "And it just wasn't happening."

Al Jazeera reports that Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, US military spokesman in Baghdad, said he was "appauled by the behavior of the soldiers." But, he said in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes II", the few suspects were "not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are over here... Don't judge your army based on the actions of a few."


More than 50 percent of those surveyed in the Gallup poll said attacks on US troops were "justified" or "sometimes justified," while only a quarter said they were never justified. In the Sunni triangle north of Baghdad, and in Baghdad itself, the number of respondents who said attacks were justified was much higher than the rest of Iraq.


Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the US is sending more heavy tanks and armored vehicles to deal with the upsurge in attacks on its forces. On Thursday, ten more US troops were killed in Iraq, bringing the total to 126 soliders and marines killed in April alone, more than were killed during the actual invasion of Iraq.


Marines patrolling around Fallujah this week say they can feel the Iraqi anger every day, even when the two sides aren't shooting [reports USA Today]. Marine Lance Cpl. Wes Monks, 23, of Springfield, Ore., says that as he drives around the restive, mostly Sunni city, he sees Iraqis with a knowing, "sarcastic smile. You see it every day. ... We're always the last one to find out when we run over a mine." "I can see their point of view," says Marine Lance Cpl. Mathew Leifi, 20, of Orange, Calif. "If anyone rolled up on my street, I'd be p****d, too."

USA Today also reports that much of the anti-US animosity reflected in the poll is not coming from direct contact with coalition troops, but from watching incidents involving US troops on Arab satellite TV channels. And although most Iraqis can get the pro-US broadcast station, and only about one-third get Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, it's the Arab channels that viewers trust the most, and consider the most 'objective.' The report notes that few Iraqis trust western networks like CNN or the BBC.

The Gallup poll also showed that Iraqis remain optimistic about the future, even if they are copncerned about the present. CNN reports that Iraqis signaled a strong desire to have a democracy, and said that they supported the idea of a transition to an elected government of the kind being advocated by UN special envoy Lakdar Barahimi. Sixty-one precent also said getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth any hardship.


Finally, a new poll conducted by CBS News and The New York Times shows that American support for the war in Iraq has "eroded substantially" over the past few months and that Americans increasingly don't like the way President Bush is handling the conflict.


Asked whether the United States had done the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, 47 percent of respondents said it had, down from 58 percent a month earlier and 63 percent in December, just after American forces captured Saddam Hussein. Forty-six percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, up from 37 percent last month and 31 percent in December.

A spokeman for the White House questioned if the poll "accurately reflected public opinion.".

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