London Times Online
DESPITE sectarian slaughter, ethnic cleansing and suicide bombs, an opinion poll conducted on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has found a striking resilience and optimism among the inhabitants.
The poll, the biggest since coalition troops entered Iraq on March 20, 2003, shows that by a majority of two to one, Iraqis prefer the current leadership to Saddam Hussein’s regime, regardless of the security crisis and a lack of public services.
The survey, published today, also reveals that contrary to the views of many western analysts, most Iraqis do not believe they are embroiled in a civil war.
The poll highlights the impact the sectarian violence has had. Some 26% of Iraqis - 15% of Sunnis and 34% of Shi’ites - have suffered the murder of a family member. Kidnapping has also played a terrifying role: 14% have had a relative, friend or colleague abducted, rising to 33% in Baghdad.
Yet 49% of those questioned preferred life under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, to living under Saddam. Only 26% said things had been better in Saddam’s era, while 16% said the two leaders were as bad as each other and the rest did not know or refused to answer.
Not surprisingly, the divisions in Iraqi society were reflected in statistics — Sunnis were more likely to back the previous Ba’athist regime (51%) while the Shi’ites (66%) preferred the Maliki government.
Maliki, who derives a significant element of his support from Moqtada al-Sadr, the hardline Shi’ite militant, and his Mahdi army, has begun trying to overcome criticism that his government favours the Shi’ites, going out of his way to be seen with Sunni tribal leaders. He is also under pressure from the US to include more Sunnis in an expected government reshuffle.
The poll suggests a significant increase in support for Maliki. A survey conducted by ORB in September last year found that only 29% of Iraqis had a favourable opinion of the prime minister.
Another surprise was that only 27% believed they were caught up in a civil war. Again, that number divided along religious lines, with 41% of Sunnis believing Iraq was in a civil war, compared with only 15% of Shi’ites.
The survey is a rare snapshot of Iraqi opinion because of the difficulty of working in the country, with the exception of Kurdish areas which are run as an essentially autonomous province.
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