An accusation that a vice president led a death squad targeting police and government officials roiled Iraqi politics yesterday — just a day after the last of the U.S. forces there withdrew across the border. The crisis deepened today when, speaking from the autonomous Kurdish north — out of reach of the central government’s security forces — the Sunni politician denied the charges and accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of using the warrant as a ploy to consolidate power. Does any of this dramatic political maneuvering surprise the Iraqi people? Judging by a poll released yesterday, probably not.
According to results of the survey by Zogby Research Services (PDF), Iraqis expressed concern about the departure of U.S. forces, but are nonetheless cautiously optimistic. Six in 10 Iraqis, said a report on the results, feared a possible civil war, partition of the country, outsized foreign influence by neighbors, terrorism, or economic woes. The concerns played into mixed Iraqi emotions:
Iraqi views can again be described as conflicted: 22% saying they are happy; 35% saying they are worried; and 30% saying they feel both emotions.
Iraqis, overall, feel that their country is “worse off” because of the U.S.-led war there — perhaps, for example, because Baghdad recently ranked as the worst place on the planet to live — with strong divergences across ethnic groups. Likewise, in the U.S., respondents were split between political affiliations about whether they thought Iraq was better or worse off. This chart breaks down the various responses to the survey:
So, if not themselves, who do Iraqis think became better situated vis-à-vis their country?
When asked who benefited the most from the war in Iraq, Iraqis most frequently point to Iran (54%), the United States (48%), and Iraqi elites (40%). Additionally, more than one-quarter of Iraqis see al-Qaeda as a chief beneficiary of the war. Only 4% think the Iraqi people benefited the most from the war.
Majorities in five of the six other countries surveyed — “Egypt (88%), Lebanon (86%), Tunisia (81%), Jordan (66%), Saudi Arabia (58%), and Iran (50%)” — agreed with the plurality of Iraqis who saw the U.S. benefiting the most, with nearly half (47%) of respondents from the United Arab Emirates sharing this view.
The survey — of 1,000 Iraqis across sect, ethnicity, cities, regions, age groups and socio-economic status — did bear out recent reporting on Iraqi resistance to undue Iranian influence in their affairs. Overall, two thirds of Iraqis view Iran unfavorably, with 90 percent of Sunnis, 83 percent of Kurds, and, notably, a bare majority of Shiites — Iran’s co-sectarians — holding that view.
All told, Iraqis responded with a guarded optimism about the prospects for their country’s future. While, only 21 percent overall both want a democracy and think it possible, 55 precent of Iraqis are either “very optimistic” (9 percent) or “somewhat optimistic” (46 percent) that Iraq will be stable and make progress.