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2004-05-25 16:29:39 (UTC)

More Iraq Hawk Myths Bite the Dust

May 18, 2004

More Iraq Hawk Myths Bite the Dust

by Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign
policy studies at the Cato Institute, is a member of the
Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He is also the
author or editor of 15 books on international affairs.

A new, extensive survey of Iraqi public opinion conducted
by Gallup and other groups discredits numerous cherished
beliefs that hawks have held about Iraq. For months, the
Bush administration and its supporters have argued that
there is a silent majority of Iraqis who regard coalition
forces as liberators, want those forces to stay for a
prolonged period, oppose insurgent attacks on coalition
troops, and are enthusiastic about creating a Western-style
democracy for their country. The poll results contradict
every one of those assumptions.

Take the question of whether Iraqis regard U.S. and allied
forces as liberators or occupiers. Only 19 percent of
respondents consider them liberators. The results are even
more dismal when sentiment in the Kurdish region is
excluded. Ninety-seven percent of Kurds view those forces
as liberators. In the Sunni and Shiite regions that
sentiment is 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

The belief that U.S. troops are occupiers rather than
liberators has grown steadily, but it is not a new
phenomenon. When asked how they had viewed coalition troops
at the time of the invasion, 43 percent indicated that they
had seen them as occupiers-the same percentage that
regarded them as liberators. That result debunks the myth
that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis welcomed the
invasion. Even at the earliest stage of the mission, Iraqi
opinion was sharply divided about the desirability of the
U.S.-led intervention.

The poll results also belie the notion that a majority of
Iraqis want U.S. and British troops to stay on for an
extended period. Instead, 57 percent want those troops to
leave "immediately." Again, the contrast between the
opinion of Kurds and Arabs is striking. Only 3 percent of
Kurds want the forces to depart immediately. In the Shiite
areas, the sentiment is 61 percent and in the Sunni areas
it is 65 percent. (And in Baghdad it is a stunning 75

Even more discouraging, support for armed attacks on
coalition forces is not confined to a tiny minority of
extremists as the Bush administration has insisted. Twenty-
two percent of respondents stated that attacks were
justified "sometimes," and another 29 percent endorsed
attacks without any qualification.

Nor is there any indication of a vast reservoir of support
for democracy. Only 40 percent advocate the creation of a
multiparty parliamentary democracy for Iraq. The rest
advocate systems ranging from the traditional "Islamic
concept of mutual consultation," to a conservative Islamic
kingdom like Saudi Arabia, to an Islamic theocracy like
Iran. Once again, strong support for democracy in the
Kurdish north contrasts with anemic support in the Sunni
and Shiite regions (31 percent and 27 percent

Finally, overall attitudes toward the United States and the
Coalition Provisional Authority are extremely negative.
Only 27 percent have a favorable opinion of the CPA, and
just 23 percent have a favorable opinion of the United

It is evident that U.S. policy in Iraq has been based on
faulty assumptions about Iraqi attitudes. There is no
silent majority of pro-American Iraqis. Instead, most
Iraqis regard the U.S.-led mission as an occupation, not a
liberation, and they want that occupation to end
immediately. A majority of Iraqis endorse attacks on
coalition forces, at least under some circumstances, and
they do not want a Western-style democracy for their

Worst of all, the trend in opinion is ominous. There has
been a marked upsurge of opposition to the Iraq mission
since a similar poll was taken in mid-March by ABC News and
other organizations. Time is not on Washington's side. To
the extent that we ever had a welcome in Iraq, we have
overstayed that welcome. The first step in developing a new
policy -- and a badly needed exit strategy -- is to abandon
all of the myths that supporters of the Iraq mission have
cherished for so long.