Iraqis have hope, despite Kerry’s view
John Kerry is playing the prophet of doom in the most important foreign policy initiative of our generation.
In Pennsylvania, Kerry described Iraq as “the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.” In New York, he opined that murderous cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ‘”holds more sway in suburbs of Baghdad than Prime Minister (Iyad) Allawi.” In Columbus, Ohio, the senator claimed to have a more accurate perspective on the situation in Iraq than did the interim prime minister, whose favorability rating of 73 percent among Iraqis, it’s worth noting, is higher than Kerry’s 48 percent favorability rating among Americans in the latest polls. Kerry, of course, has never set foot in Iraq.
I was there from July 2003 to April 2004, conducting about 70 focus groups and a dozen public opinion polls and advising L. Paul Bremer III, then the civilian administrator, on Iraqi public opinion. Whatever you might hear from Kerry, Michael Moore, the mainstream media and anyone else to whom defeating President Bush is more important than the fate of the Iraqi people, those who know best what’s going on in Iraq – the Iraqis themselves – are optimistic about the future.
Iraqis consistently say in nationwide polls that the situation in their country is improving. In polls over the course of the summer, for example, more than half of Iraqis said their country was on the right track. The vast majority of Iraqis – 72 percent – see the same benefits in democracy as Americans do: the hope for peace, stability and a better life. Most polls show that 75 percent of Iraqis want to vote for their leaders rather than have clerics appoint them.
In a recent speech, Kerry charged that Saddam Hussein’s brutality “was not, in itself, a reason to go to war.” Iraqis disagree, as should any supporter of human rights. Nearly 55 percent of Iraqis say that toppling Saddam was worth the price of the current difficulties.
These figures are easy to understand when you look at another set of numbers. In an op-ed article circulated this year among the more than 200 independent newspapers now published in Iraq, an Iraqi democratic activist observed that Saddam tortured and killed as many as 750,000 of his own people. Iraqis don’t understand the debate about whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. To them, Saddam was a weapon of mass destruction.
UNICEF, hardly an apologist for the Bush administration, estimates that 5,000 Iraqi children a month died of starvation and malnutrition while Saddam siphoned funds from the U.N.’s oil-for-food program to build his palaces and enrich French politicians.
Americans are only now learning of the extent of Saddam’s corruption of this humanitarian program; the Iraqis have known about it for quite some time. When asked to rate their confidence in the United Nations, Iraqis gave the organization a 2.9 on a scale of 1 to 4, with a 4 meaning absolutely no confidence. In contrast, more than 60 percent of Iraqis tell pollsters that the Iraqi government has done a good job since the June 28 hand-over.
Polling in Iraq is done much as in any developing country. Interviews are conducted face to face by highly trained Iraqi interviewers. For a 1,500-person sample, for instance, 75 “qada” (the Iraqi equivalent of precincts) would be chosen at random, with interviews conducted in 20 randomly chosen households in each.
Though difficulties abound, the cooperation rate is usually more than 80 percent – much higher than in the United States. Iraqis are amazed that, for the first time, somebody cares about their political opinion, and they frequently want interviewers to interview cousins and friends.
From 20,000 to 30,000 insurgents, many from outside Iraq, are trying to prevent Iraqis who want democracy from achieving it. Kerry has said he would begin withdrawing U.S. troops six months after his inauguration. Iraq’s autocratic neighbors are vigorously supporting the efforts of extremists to derail Iraqi self-government. Hastily withdrawing U.S. troops for political reasons would be a mistake for which we would pay for decades.
A look at the nightly news confirms the finding that six out of 10 Iraqis are worried about security, but what’s being given short shrift are the strides being made and the intensity of Iraqi optimism.
Steven E. Moore is a political consultant based in Sacramento.
© 2004 The Los Angeles Times
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