On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the US-British-Australian invasion of oil-rich Iraq, the American Broadcasting Corporation released the results of a survey showing that 78% of Iraqis oppose the continuing presence of US and allied foreign troops in their country.
The survey was conducted between February 25 and March 5 by 150 Iraqi interviewers for ABC News and its media partners USA Today, the BBC and Germany's ARD TV. Similar surveys were conducted for ABC News in February 2004 and November 2005.
In a March 19 analysis of the survey results, ABC News polling director Gary Langer reported that "the number of Iraqis who call it 'acceptable' to attack US and [other] coalition forces, 17 percent in early 2004, has tripled to 51 percent now".
Among Arab Iraqis, this figure rises to 60% — with 94% of Sunni Arabs and 35% of Shiites believing violence against US and other coalition forces is "acceptable". Of Iraq's estimated 28 million people, 47% are Shiite Arabs, 35% are Sunni Arabs, while 15% are non-Arab, but overwhelmingly Sunni, Kurds.
The growth in hostility among Arab Iraqis toward the occupation forces has provided a popular base for Iraqi resistance fighters to draw on, enabling them to steadily intensify their guerrilla war against the US occupiers and their puppet Iraqi security forces (ISF).
In its latest quarterly report on Iraq to the US Congress, submitted on March 2, the Pentagon noted that average weekly attacks on coalition forces rose from around 350 in April 2004 to almost 800 this January. Attacks on the ISF over the same period rose from an average of about 50 per week to around 200.
The Pentagon report stated that the "total number of attacks on and casualties suffered by coalition forces, the ISF, and Iraqi civilians for the October-December reporting period were the highest for any 3-month period since 2003".
According to the Pentagon's figures, only about 10% of attacks by non-coalition/non-ISF forces target civilians, though Iraqi civilians account for the great majority of those being killed and wounded.
"For the month of December, the UN estimates that more than 6000 civilians were killed or wounded. This is about twice as many casualties as were recorded by coalition forces", the report stated.
Despite noting that 75% of non-coalition violence in Iraq is targeted at US and other occupation forces, the report argued that "the conflict has changed from a predominantly Sunni-led insurgency against foreign occupation to a struggle
for the division of political and economic influence among sectarian groups and organised criminal activity … which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence".
This accords with the White House's PR spin on the war (parroted by most of the Western media), according to which the US occupation forces are neutral peacekeepers trying to stop Iraq from exploding into a full-scale civil war between "Sunni insurgents" and "Shiite militias".
However, this claim is contradicted by the "off-the-record" admissions of top US officials about the impact that the Iraqi anti-occupation insurgency is having on US ground forces.
The March 19 Washington Post, for example, reported that "senior US military and government officials … say it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials privately have called a 'death spiral', in which the ever more rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand".
As a result of this, "the US military now lacks a large strategic reserve of ground troops ready to respond quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises, whether the internal collapse of Pakistan, a conflict with Iran or an outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula. Air and naval power can only go so far in compensating for infantry, artillery and other land forces, they said."
The official Pentagon claim that the conflict in Iraq has changed from an Iraqi guerrilla war ("insurgency") against the US and allied occupation forces into a civil war between Iraqi sectarian groups is also at odds with the results of ABC News's survey.
It found that while 53% of Iraqis — rising to eight out 10 Baghdad residents — said a close friend or relative had been hurt in the current violence, only 19% blamed the current violence on "sectarian disputes" or power struggles between "Sunni insurgents" and "Shiite militias".
In his March 19 analysis of the survey's results, Langer reported that when "Asked whom they most blamed for the current violence in Iraq, far and away the most common answer — voiced by four in 10 Iraqis — is either US and coalition forces (31 percent) or George W. Bush personally (nine percent) …
"Indeed, among the occurrences of local violence measured in this poll, the top mention is 'unnecessary violence against citizens by US or coalition forces'. Forty-eight percent of Iraqis — including 60 percent of Sunnis — report this as having occurred nearby."
Langer reported, "More than seven in 10 Shiites — and nearly all Sunni Arabs — think the presence of US forces in Iraq is making security worse".
This negative view of the role of the US and other coalition forces was confirmed by a poll conducted in mid-February by the British firm Opinion Research Business, the full results of which were released on March 15. The ORB poll asked a representative sample of 5000 Iraqis whether they thought "the security situation in Iraq will get better or worse in the immediate weeks following a withdrawal of Multi-National Forces?" Sixty-one per cent of Arab Iraqis answered "better"; only 19% thought it would get worse.
In Baghdad, 70% thought a withdrawal of the coalition forces would make the security situation better; only 7% thought a coalition withdrawal would make it worse.
In his report on the ABC News survey, Langer noted that fewer "than three in 10 Iraqis think that sending additional US troops to Baghdad and Anbar — the Bush 'surge' — will improve security in these areas. Among Baghdad residents themselves, 36 percent think it will help things. In Anbar, where the Sunni Arab opposition is rooted, essentially everyone thinks it will make security worse."
The US was seen by 77% of those surveyed as playing a negative role in Iraq, with 59% of Iraqis saying that the "US government controls things in our country", up from 24% in November 2005.
Langer noted that, in 2005, "despite the difficulties in their country, 71% of Iraqis said their own lives were going well. Today that's been all but halved, to 39% …
"In an equally dramatic reversal, majorities now give negative ratings to each of more than a dozen essential aspects of daily life — jobs, schools, power and fuel supply. In late 2005, for instance, 54 percent said their power supply was inadequate or non-existent; now that's swelled to 88 percent. And in 2005, just 30 percent rated their economic situation negatively. Today, that's more than doubled, to 64 percent."
According to the survey, 60% of Iraqi households are living on monthly incomes of less than US$301. Only 23% of Iraqi adults have full-time employment, while another 16% have part-time jobs. Eighty per cent of those surveyed rated the availability of jobs as bad.
"Given all of this", Langer noted, "for the first time since the 2003 war, fewer than half of Iraqis, 42 percent, say life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein", with 50% saying that "things overall in Iraq" are worse.
As a result of the failure of Iraq's US-imposed "democracy" to improve their lives, support for a secular democratic system of government among Iraqis has declined from 64% in 2005 to 53%. The percentage of those favouring a government run by a Hussein-style "strong leader" has risen over the same period from 16% to 26%. An Islamist regime, favoured by 12% in 2005, is now favoured by 22% of Iraqis — 37% of Shiites, but only 6% of Sunni Arabs.
While 12% of those surveyed reported that the forced separation of Sunnis and Shiites had occurred in their neighbourhoods, 99% of Sunni Arabs and 95% of Shiites said they were opposed to the separation of Iraqis on sectarian lines.