New poll: Iraqis want troops out

Issue 

"A strong majority of Iraqis want US-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers", the September 27 Washington Post reported.

That same day, Associated Press reported that a poll conducted in Iraq in early September by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 61% of Iraqis approved of resistance attacks on the US-led foreign forces — up from 47% in January. A solid majority of Shiite and Sunni Arabs approved of the attacks, according to the poll. The increase came mostly among Shiite Iraqis.

The Post reported that, according to the State Department's June-July survey, in Baghdad "nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if US and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65% of those asked favoring an immediate pullout".

The director of an Iraqi polling firm, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted in August showed that 80% of Iraqis who were questioned favoured an immediate withdrawal of the US and allied foreign troops. Eight-five per cent of Sunnis supported an immediate withdrawal, a number virtually unchanged in the past two years.

"Interviews with two dozen Baghdad residents in recent weeks", the Post reported, "suggest one central cause for Iraqi distrust of the Americans: They believe the US government has deliberately thrown the country into chaos. The most common theory heard on the streets of Baghdad is that the American military is creating a civil war to create an excuse to keep its forces here."

The claim that US troops need to be in Iraq to stop a "sectarian civil war" has been the line provided by US officials in Baghdad to Western reporters since the February 22 bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra — a Sunni mosque containing a key Shiite shrine.

While eyewitnesses said the bombing was carried out by the US-run interior ministry's paramilitary police commandos, US officials in Baghdad blamed Sunni "insurgents".

Within a week of the bombing and a wave of Shiite attacks on Sunni mosques, US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad accused anti-occupation Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia of carrying out a wave of killings of Sunnis.

The March 7 Los Angeles Times reported that Khalilzad claimed "the US has little choice but to maintain a strong presence
in Iraq — or risk a regional conflict in which Arabs side with Sunnis and Iranians back Shiites".

Since then, the "sectarian civil war" mantra has become the standard framework for Western corporate reporting on Iraq.

A typical example of this was a September 1 New York Times article in which — despite Pentagon figures showing that of the close to 800 "insurgent" attacks a week in August, 90% were directed against US-led forces — the war between the occupation forces and Iraqi resistance fighters disappeared, to be replaced by "Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife".

The article reported: "Since Sunday, more than 300 Iraqis have been killed in bombings, murders and a deadly pipeline explosion ... The violence is generally believed to be the work of insurgents, militias and criminal gangs embroiled in Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife."

Another example was a report by Oliver Poole in the September 22 London Daily Telegraph, in which he wrote: "Lieutenant-Colonel William Brown, an intelligence officer whose job is to monitor the militias in east Baghdad, estimated that Shia groups raised at least $1 million (£530,000) a day through organised crime. The money came 'especially from kidnappings, extortion, black marketeering and blackmail'. Thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Payments of $50,000 are routinely demanded and paid. Many people are killed even after the ransom is paid.

"Lt Col Brown said that of particular concern was the control of many petrol stations by members of the Mahdi army, the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-Western fundamentalist cleric whose political allies control the ministry of transport. The Mahdi army is the largest and most powerful of the Shia militias in Baghdad, with an estimated 10,000 members."

For more than a year now, Sunni community leaders have repeatedly blamed the wave of anti-Sunni extrajudicial executions on the Iraqi interior ministry's US-recruited, trained and "adviser"-run 11,000-member Special Police Commando Division. But Poole, taking his cue from Brown, reported — without providing any evidence other than its members guarding petrol stations — that Sadr's militia is the largest of a multitude of Shiite-based criminal gangs engaged in extorting money through abductions and killings of wealthy Iraqis.

US military officials in Baghdad now routinely give briefings to Western reporters in which, speaking anonymously and without providing any evidence, they claim that Sadr's militia is responsible for most of the death-squad-style executions of Sunnis.

The September 28 Los Angeles Times, for example, reported that the previous day "a senior US military official", who "spoke on condition of anonymity", gave an "intelligence briefing" to Western reporters in which the official stated that Sadr's militia had been responsible for "thousands" of death-squad-style killings of Sunnis since February.

Seeking to deflect attention away from Sunni claims that the death-squad killings are being carried out by the US-run interior ministry's police commandos, the anonymous US official claimed that "Iraqi's interior ministry" was only "complicit in many of the killings", and that "militia members have used Iraqi security forces' uniforms and vehicles during assassinations and checkpoint sweeps".

While US officials continue to claim that the occupation of Iraq is necessary to provide Iraqis with "security", the two polls reported on September 27 show that the great majority of Iraqis know this is a lie.