Monday, March 19, 2007

A tale of two surveys.


In one media outlet, the latest polling information from Iraq shows a hardy and resolute Iraqi populace bluffly denying civil war and stoically insisting that life is better than under Saddam Hussein, regardless of all prevailing conditions. In another, media outlet, carrying a different survey, the results says something completely different.

One account, headlined Resilient Iraqis ask what civil war?, speaks of "striking resilience and optimism", a sense that perceptions of security have improved since Bush escalated the war, that only 27% believe there is a civil war, and a feeling among 49% that things - however bad - are better than under Saddam. The other, headlined Pessimism 'growing among Iraqis', reports declining confidence in the government and a mere 18% of the population having confidence in the occupiers. The former, by The Times, links to related articles including "Iraqis: life is getting better"; "A turning point for Iraq"; and, "Violence slashed as troop surge hits Baghdad", some written by the same reporter. The BBC links to related articles such as "Australia PM returns from Iraq"; "US in second day of Iraq rallies"; "US general upbeat on Iraq 'surge'"; "UN pleads for Iraq support".

The poll reported by the BBC isn't available until midday, but happily the one discussed by the Sunday Times and its yank foreign correspondent is available now. These are the in-depth results. As you will see, there isn't a great deal to brag about. The first question establishes that less than a third of Iraqis believe Bush's claimed reason for the "troop surge". The second establishes that most Iraqis believe that security would improve in the immediate weeks following a withdrawal of troops. Not as a long-term benefit, straight away. The third establishes that half of Iraqis have experienced either the death or kidnapping of a family friend or colleague. Half. Question number four finds that 27% of Iraqis believe there is a civil war now, and a further 22% believe a civil war is very close (which is half of the population). The remainder is divided between those who think that it's a long way off yet, or that it will never get that far, or that they don't know. The next question establishes that most Iraqis want a strong, centralised Iraqi state and thereby disapprove of the federalist policies being pursued by the occupiers. The next question finds mixed levels of confidence in Maliki's alleged plan to get rid of 'militias', obviously more pronounced among Shiites than Sunnis, and with pretty straightforward reasons for distrust given: such as, militias being involved in the government. The next finds that 24% of Iraqis have had relatives forced to flee either to the relatively peaceable Kurdish areas or to surrounding countries. Then we find that, when people are asked about their own situation, 49% said it was on balance better than under Saddam Hussein. 26% said they had it better under the "present political system" than under Saddam and 16% said that both were as bad as the other. When the question is put differently, 90% of Iraqis say that the situation in the country is worse than under Saddam, which it manifestly is. Yet, these findings give The Times reporters beaming faces, because at long last the occupiers can say "We are not as bad as Saddam Hussein". A world-beating boast, to be sure.

And that's it: that is the sole basis for the Sunday Times' ejaculation. A study that shows that Iraqi people think that security is terrible, fear that civil war is either imminent or in progress, say that the occupation has affected them all in the most devastating ways, and believe that security would improve immediately upon withdrawal of occupiers.

Relatedly, the regrets of the man who helped bring down Saddam's statue.