WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
By Sharon Smith | April 2, 2004 | Page 7
"SEVEN IN 10 Iraqis say things overall are going well for them--a result that might surprise outsiders imagining the worst of life in Iraq today," ABC News reported on March 15, touting the results of an opinion poll marking the anniversary of the U.S. invasion.
Headlines trumpeted the poll's claim that nearly half of all Iraqis believe the U.S. was right to invade Iraq, while only 15 percent want the occupation forces to leave now--the vast majority preferring troops to stay and help with the transition to a new Iraqi government. These headlines seem to offer evidence to those peace activists who are reluctant to call for an immediate end of the U.S. occupation, fearing that Iraq would descend into "chaos."
As Milan Rai of the British peace organization Justice Not Vengeance argued in response to the poll, "If the antiwar movement is to pay heed to the expressed wishes of the Iraqi people (as determined in several polls), we should abandon the demand for 'troops out now.'" But opinion polls such as this one--sponsored by ABC, BBC and other news outlets from the dwindling "Coalition of the Willing"--are intended to restore legitimacy to the failing occupation.
As such, they are far from an accurate gauge of Iraqi sentiments about self-determination. There is no reason to assume that Iraqis living under U.S. military occupation would express their frank opinions to emissaries of their occupiers. As Brendan O'Neill of Britain's Guardian newspaper argued, perhaps the Iraqi respondents decided "that you should give a positive appraisal of the powers that be."
This sentiment is certainly reinforced by the fact that 8,000 Iraqis are currently imprisoned by U.S. occupation forces allowed to round up and detain any Iraqi suspected of "anti-coalition activity"--without trial or formal charges. Most detainees are held at Abu Ghraib, the prison complex known as "the pit," where political prisoners were tortured and killed under Saddam Hussein.
Prison conditions haven't changed much under U.S. military occupation--six soldiers have recently been charged with maltreatment, assault and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees. Moreover, the claim of the poll's sponsors--that the results are based on "a random, representative sample" of Iraqis--is simply false. Only 33 percent of those interviewed identified themselves as Shia Muslim, though Shias make up roughly 60 percent of the Iraqi population.
And a breakdown of the results--which never made its way into the news headlines--shows sharp differences between Kurds on the one hand, and Arab Muslims on the other. Kurds support the troop presence by a margin of 82 percent, compared with only 30 percent of Arabs (both Sunni and Shia). Just 33 percent of Arabs (and 21 percent of Sunni Arabs) view the U.S. invasion as an act of "liberation."
Since Arabs make up roughly 80 percent of Iraq's population, opposition to the occupation is clearly far more widespread than the disgruntled remainders of Saddam Hussein's regime. Furthermore, the poll showed that 21 percent of Arabs (3.3 million Iraqis) consider armed attacks on occupation forces an act of legitimate resistance to the occupation.
And when asked to name an Iraqi leader they do not trust, more Iraqis (10.3 percent) named Ahmed Chalabi, the U.S.'s handpicked leader of the Iraqi Governing Council, than Saddam Hussein (3.3 percent). Only 6 percent of Iraqi respondents said the United Nations (UN) should be involved in national elections. Twelve years of U.S.-sponsored UN sanctions on Iraq, responsible for the deaths of more than a million Iraqi people, no doubt have soured Iraqi s' opinion on the UN as a force for justice.
Those seeking Iraqi s' views on the occupation need look no further than the signs carried by thousands of Sunni and Shia protesters, who joined antiwar demonstrators around the world on March 20 in calling for an end to U.S. occupation on the anniversary of the U.S. invasion. "Human rights have disappeared," read one sign, while others called for an end to "indiscriminate" firing of U.S. troops on Iraqis and denounced "American terrorism." The Iraqi people have spoken: End the U.S. occupation now.