Ambiguity in Iraq

A new BBC/ABC News poll of Iraq attitudes does indeed make for “grim reading,” as the BBC headline has it. Two of the main findings:

– between 67 and 70 percent of Iraqis, or more than two-thirds, say the surge has made things worse.

I have cited polls from Iraq in the past. Everyone who writes on the subject has. But we should be careful in doing so: Iraq, after all, is a country where, for many decades, no one has been encouraged to speak his mind without fearing the consequences. If you were an Iraqi who thought that the surge was going very well and that attacks on American forces were not justified, would you say so to a stranger when you knew that if some terrorist group found out your views they would be likely to kill you and your entire family?

There is also a complexity to Iraqi thinking that is hard to capture in polls but is well summed up by this New York Times interview:

A city employee in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, vividly described his ambivalence.

“The withdrawal of the occupation forces is a must because they have caused the destruction of Iraq, they committed massacres against the innocents, they have double-crossed the Iraqis with dreams,” said the worker, Ahmad Umar al Esawi, a Sunni. “I want them to withdraw all their troops in one day.”

Dropping his voice, he continued: “There is something that I want to say although I hate to say it. The American forces, which are an ugly occupation force, have become something important to us, the Sunnis. We are a minority and we do not have a force to face the militias. If the Americans leave, it will mean a total elimination of the Sunnis in Iraq.”

Mr. Esawi added, “I know I said I want them to leave, but if we think about it, then I have to say I want them to stay for a while until we end all the suspicions we have of each other and have a strong national government.”

That’s been my own experience with Iraqis—they all want America to leave someday; just not yet. That type of ambivalence is hard to capture in polls.