The Article: How Do Iraqis View the Effects of the Iraq War? by Daniel Larison in The American Conservative.
The Text: This Zogby poll of Iraqi and other opinions about the consequences of the U.S. invasion should be required reading (via Ricks). It is by far the most comprehensive survey of Iraqi opinion about the war that I have seen, and it is first since the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The responses to one question in particular deserve close attention. The question was, “Since the U.S. entered Iraq, how do you feel the following areas of life have been impacted?” Consistent with other surveys, Kurdish opinion tends to be extremely positive, because Iraqi Kurds experienced almost none of the upheaval and violence during the eight and a half years of U.S. occupation. For the most part, Shia and Sunni Arabs perceive almost every aspect of life to have become worse or not changed.
For example, when asked about political freedom, 53% of Shias and 54% of Sunni Arabs say that things are worse now, and less than a third of each group believes that things have improved. As for personal security and safety, there is an overwhelming consensus among both groups (81% of Shias, 88% of Sunni Arabs) that it is worse than before, which is hardly surprising. The responses on economic development/employment are almost as lopsided and negative: 74% of Shias and 80% of Sunni Arabs say that things are worse. In every category except religious freedom, Shia and Sunni Arabs are in agreement that things have become worse since the U.S. invaded. Overall results show that there is only one category (religious freedom) in which there are more respondents reporting improvement over the pre-invasion state of affairs, and even this is just a 39% plurality. Keep these numbers in mind when you next hear some dead-ender complaining about how ungrateful the Iraqis are for all that “we” have done for them.
The poll’s report sums up Iraqis’ negative views:
Majorities of Iraqi respondents say that the impact of the war has been negative with respect to their personal safety and security (72%), economic development and employment (66%), administration of government services (59%), and relations with neighboring countries (54%). One-half feel there has been a negative impact on political freedom (as opposed to one-third who say that political freedom has advanced). Similarly almost one-half of Iraqis feel the impact on education has been negative. The results are more mixed in terms of women’s rights (26% positive, 37% negative, 26% no impact).
We should also note the American responses to the same question. The difference is remarkable, and it shows what a huge gap in perceptions and understanding there is between Americans and Iraqis. 48% of Iraqis overall believe that political freedom has worsened since the invasion, but 50% of Americans believe it has improved. In fairness to the American respondents, the American public has been routinely deceived and misled about the nature of the new Iraqi government and political conditions in “democratic” Iraq, so it would be easy for a casual observer to conclude that conditions are greatly improved. Of course, this result is heavily influenced by the 67% of Republicans who believe that political freedom has improved since the invasion. I’m sure most Republicans genuinely believe that, because this is what their leaders and pundits have been telling them for years. It speaks volumes that this view is wildly at odds with the views of the Iraqis who have lived through the invasion and occupation years.
American respondents also have a far more positive view of other aspects of life than Iraqis, and this is even more pronounced when looking at Republican respondents. Incredibly, 51% of Republicans say that personal safety and security in Iraq have improved since 2003. No less incredible, 43% of Republicans say the same for economic development/employment, 48% say that education has improved (which is virtually the opposite of the Iraqi response), and 46% say that government has improved (again completely at odds with the Iraqi view). I suppose I shouldn’t find these responses to be quite so surprising, but they do show how deep inside a partisan and pro-war bubble many Republicans are that they can give responses so divorced from the realities in Iraq. Support for the war is probably causing Republican respondents to imagine that conditions in Iraq are better than they are, but it is also possible that more Republicans continued to support the war until the very end because they didn’t have very good information about what the war was doing to Iraq.
Americans and Iraqis are also far apart in their assessment of who benefited the most from the war. While 39% of Americans said that the Iraqi people gained the most, 4% of Iraqis said the same. In fairness, another 40% of Americans answered that no one gained from the war, which is at least closer to the truth. Iraqis answered that Iran and the U.S. benefited the most. 22% of Americans agreed that the U.S. benefited most (who are these people?), and just 5% of Americans said that Iran benefited the most. There is finally some agreement among Iraqis and Americans that withdrawing from Iraq is good for their respective countries: overall 60% of Iraqis and 74% of Americans see withdrawal a positive development. Contra Marc Lynch, withdrawal was a good policy decision and a wise political move. There is no constituency for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq outside of Republican dead-enders. 59% of Republicans see withdrawal as a positive thing.