[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 12:13 GMT
Analysis: Degrees of optimism in Iraq

By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The latest survey of opinion in Iraq shows a degree of optimism at variance with the usual depiction of the country as one in total chaos.

Iraqis at Baghdad internet cafe
Life is improving at the local level, according to the survey
The figures will provide evidence for supporters of the invasion and occupation to argue that the international media have got it wrong - that, despite everything, most Iraqis are wedded to a democratic future in a unified state and have faith it will come.

The findings are in line with the kind of arguments currently being deployed by President George W Bush.

In a recent speech, he referred to reconstruction and, as an example, this survey shows the rapid growth of consumer buying in Iraq, led by mobile phones and satellite television.

However critics will claim that the survey proves little beyond showing how resilient Iraqis are at a local level.

They will argue that it reveals enough important exceptions to the rosy assessment, especially in the centre of the country, to indicate serious dissatisfaction.

Key findings in more detail

Indeed a high level of optimism was evident in surveys last year and yet the situation has hardly improved.

The question, therefore, is whether the desire for stability shown by the survey can overcome the centre of resistance.

The immediate problem is that these attitudes - optimism, faith in democracy - have not been enough to overcome the insurgency.

On the other hand, they offer the possibility that it might be overcome one day.

Regional differences

The survey splits Iraq into four regions - Kurdish, the Centre, Baghdad and the South.

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The most important exceptions to the overall findings are revealed in the centre of Iraq, the band of mainly Sunni territory where the insurgency is strongest.

As long as that dissatisfaction continues, so, it seems, will the insurgency itself.

There are regional differences, with the Kurds showing a significant interest in quality-of-life issues compared to the rest of the country, which is still preoccupied with security.

The Kurds have moved on. They even approve of a unified state in larger numbers than they did before.

Indeed such is the concern about security in Iraq that there is a yearning for a "strong leader", though within a democratic framework.

And none of the current leadership appears to meet that requirement. Religious leaders are respected, but not overwhelmingly so.

It is interesting that, asked to look five years ahead, Iraqis stressed democracy more than strong leadership as the priority they would look for then. Again, the future is looking better to them.

Stable attitudes

This is the fifth survey in Iraq carried out by Oxford Research International (ORI), on behalf of five media groups, including the BBC.

We are beginning to lose the centre - it has a siege mentality
Dr Christoph Sahm, ORI

Its researchers, who were Iraqis, spread out in minibuses across the country and carried out 1,711 face-to-face interviews.

This figure was lower than in previous surveys because of security considerations but even so, according to ORI director Dr Christoph Sahm, it produced a result in which "Iraqi households were talking to us".

Since the international media cannot get out and about in Iraq, the findings are of particular interest, though for the same reason the results cannot easily be tested against experience.

What Iraqi households are saying, according to Dr Sahm, is consistent with previous surveys. "In attitudes," he said, "Iraq is remarkably stable."

But, he added: "We are beginning to lose the centre. The centre has gone sour. It has a siege mentality.

US soldiers
Occupation troops are unpopular with those surveyed
"As for other Iraqis, locally things are getting better. Life goes on. Their satisfaction level is above the global average and is going up.

"Their desire for a strong leader within a democracy shows that they want a Konrad Adenauer, not a Saddam Hussein." Adenauer was the first chancellor of post-war Germany.

Optimism prevails at the individual or family level. Most - 71% - said their lives were very good or quite good. This is the same result as in the poll last year.

Part of this may reflect the fact that, for Iraqis, family life is so important and they have managed to cling to their families during these times.

The narrow confines of their lives are suggested by the finding that 89% say they have to be careful what they say. The level of trust in society is very low.

However, this finding is balanced by the results of the very first question, which asks about the state of the country, not the state of the individual.

And here the picture is gloomier. Fifty-three percent say the situation is bad and 44% that it is good. The country is split.

A similar division emerges from the question about the US-led invasion.

Some 50% said it was wrong and 47% said it was right, compared with 39% and 49% respectively in the last poll - so support for the invasion has gone down.

And the occupation troops are unpopular (65% are opposed to them, though again with regional variations) with much greater favour being given to indigenous Iraqi security forces.

They put their trust therefore in their own institutions - not in those of foreigners. This is evidence supporting the US policy of handing over security to the local forces as much and as quickly as possible.

However, majority opposition to the occupation is not matched in support for a quick withdrawal.

Some 45% said the foreign troops should leave now or after the elections, with 31% saying they should stay until security is established.

Voice for the majority?

The elections on 15 December will provide a test of all these findings. The first test will be to see if those who said they would vote (83%) actually do so. Many of these would not say who they would vote for.

There is political optimism. Seventy-six percent said they had confidence that the elections would create a stable Iraqi government, though again the figure was smaller (45%) in the Centre.

That is very much the picture. And it leads to the question: The majority are having their say, but given the strength of the minority, will the majority have their way?


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific