What do Iraqis think about the surge? The first nationwide opinion survey since February has just been released, and it provides absolutely essential context for this week's debate over Iraq. The survey should help Americans cut through the spin and get a better view of what Iraqis really think. The BBC/ABC/NHK survey, conducted in all 19 provinces during August, finds that 70% of Iraqis believe that security has deteriorated in the areas covered by the US "surge", and 11% say it has had no effect. Only 11% say that security in the country as a whole has improved in the last six months. And 70% say that the conditions for political dialogue have gotten worse in the last six months. Bottom line: Iraqis overall, and especially Sunnis, are more opposed to the American presence than ever, do not think the surge has accomplished either its military or its political goals, and have dwindling confidence in the US forces.
Has Petraeus's counter-insurgency strategy and the surge won respect for the American presence? No. Only 15% express confidence in US/UK occupation forces, down from 18% in February, with 58% expressing "no confidence at all" - the highest in any of these surveys dating back to 2003. 80% say that the US has done a bad job in Iraq. 79% oppose the presence of Coalition forces in Iraq. 72% say that the presence of US forces is making security worse.
When should US forces leave? 47% say "leave immediately" - by far the highest support for immediate departure on record (it was 35% in February). 34% say stay until security is restored, 10% say stay until the Iraqi government is stronger. Only 2% say "remain longer but leave eventually".
What about the Sunnis, whose Great Awakenings and embrace of the United States has become the centerpiece of the Petraeus strategy and the great hope of KaganWorld? Only 1% of Sunnis say they have confidence in American forces. Only 1% of Sunnis support the American presence in Iraq. Only 1% of Sunnis say that security has improved in Iraq as a whole in the last 6 months. 72% of Sunnis say that the US forces should leave immediately. 95% of Sunnis say that the presence of US troops makes security worse. 93% still see attacks on coalition forces as acceptable.
Other interesting findings:
- You'll recall that the explicit purpose of the surge was to create the conditions for political dialogue. 70% see "conditions for political dialogue" as having gotten worse in the last six months.
- When asked about how things are going in Iraq, 78% say "quite bad"or "very bad", up from 66% in February. Only 22% say "quite good" or "very good". Among Sunnis, home of the great Awakenings, only 2% say that the situation is good, and none say "very good."
- 56% described the "security situation" in the neighborhood in which they live as bad, up slightly from 53% in February, while only 24% say that the security situation in this neighborhood has improved in the past six months. 79% of Sunnis say that security in their neighborhood is bad - despite all those American walking tours of happy, safe markets. Only 7% of Sunnis say that security in their neighborhood has improved in the last 6 months, and only 6% feel safe in their neighborhood.
- Don't get too excited that 43% say that the neighborhood in which they currently live is relatively safe, because it's probably because this is where they fled to escape from ethnic cleansing: 74% describe their "freedom of movement - the ability to go where you wish safely" as bad, and 77% say that "freedom to live where you wish without persecution" is bad. An astonishing 98% say that the separation of people along sectarian lines is a bad thing.
- Only 35% think that an American withdrawal will make civil war more likely, 46% say less likely.
- About that soft partition boomlet? 62% prefer a unified Iraq, 28% a soft partition, and 9% a full partition.
- 65% say that the current national government is doing a bad job, and 66% disapprove of Maliki personally.
Anyone who cares what Iraqis think about America's strategy in Iraq should pay very careful attention to this public opinion survey.