January 30, 2006
New WPO Poll: Iraqi Public Thinks US Plans Permanent Bases in Iraq
Iraqis Want Timetable for US Withdrawal
Half of Iraqis Approve of Attacks on US Forces, Including 9 Out of 10 Sunnis
new poll of the Iraqi public finds that a large majority of Iraqis
think the US plans to maintain bases in Iraq permanently, even if the
newly elected government asks the US to leave. A large majority favors
setting a timeline for the withdrawal of US forces, though this
majority divides over whether the timeline should be over a period of
six months or two years. Nearly half of Iraqis approve of attacks on
US-led forces—including nine out of 10 Sunnis. Most Iraqis believe that
many aspects of their lives will improve once the US-led forces leave,
but are nonetheless uncertain that Iraqi security forces are ready to
stand on their own.
Photo: A gas pipeline sabotaged Jan. 5 burns outside Kirkuk as a US soldier patrols past. (Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images)
poll was conducted for WorldPublicOpinion.org by the Program on
International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and
was fielded by KA Research Limited/D3 Systems, Inc. Polling was
conducted January 2-5 with a nationwide sample of 1,150, which included
an oversample of 150 Arab Sunnis (hereafter simply called Sunnis).
Asked whether "the US government plans to have permanent military
bases in Iraq or to remove all its military forces once Iraq is
stabilized," 80% overall assume that the US plans to remain
permanently, including 79% of Shia, 92% of Sunnis and 67% of Kurds.
Only small minorities believe that the US plans "to remove all its
military forces once Iraq is stabilized" (overall 18%, Shia 21%, Sunni
7%, Kurds 28%).
of all ethnic groups also agree that the US is unlikely to take
direction from the Iraqi government. Asked what they think the US would
do if the new government were to ask the US to withdraw its forces
within six months, 76% overall assume that the US would refuse to do so
(Shia 67%, Sunni 94%, Kurds 77%).
Support for Timetable
Asked what they would like the newly elected Iraqi government to ask
the US-led forces to do, 70% of Iraqis favor setting a timeline for the
withdrawal of US forces. This number divides evenly between 35% who
favor a short time frame of "within six months" and 35% who favor a
gradual reduction over two years. Just 29% say it should "only reduce
US-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq."
are, however, variations along ethnic lines. Sunnis are the most
unified, with 83% wanting US forces to leave within 6 months. Seventy
percent of Shia agree on having a timeline, but divide between 22% who
favor withdrawal in six months and 49% who favor two years. Among the
Kurds, on the other hand, a majority of 57% favor reducing US-led
forces only when the situation improves.
Even larger majorities, including a majority of Kurds, indicate a
readiness to follow the government’s lead should it choose to pursue a
timetable. Asked if it was a good idea for Iraqi leaders to have agreed
at the Arab League conference that there should be a timetable for the
withdrawal of US-led forces from Iraq, 87% say that it was, including
64% of Kurds, 94% of Sunnis and 90% of Shia.
the strong support for a timeline, there are differing expectations as
to what the new government will in fact do. Overall, 61% assume that
the newly elected government will propose a timeline, with 17% assuming
that it will be within six months and 44% over two years. However,
there are sharp differences between the ethnic groups. While 76% of
Shia assume that the new government will ask for withdrawal in six
months (24%) or two years (52%), a majority of Kurds (57%) and Sunnis
(54%) assume that the new government will ask US forces to withdraw
only as the security situation improves.
A November 2005 poll of Iraqis conducted by the Oxford Research
Institute for a consortium of media outlets including BBC, ABC News,
NHK and others also found unhappiness with the presence of US troops.
Sixty-five percent said they opposed "the presence of coalition forces
in Iraq." However, it was not asked specifically whether they wanted
them to leave and when.
Support for Attacks
A substantial portion of Iraqis support attacks on US led-forces,
but not attacks on Iraqi government security forces or Iraqi civilians.
Ethnic groups vary sharply on these questions.
47% say they approve of "attacks on US-led forces" (23% strongly).
There are huge differences between ethnic groups. An extraordinary 88%
of Sunnis approve, with 77% approving strongly. Forty-one percent of
Shia approve as well, but just 9% strongly. Even 16% of Kurds approve
Naturally the question arises why it is that only 35% want US troops
to withdraw within six months while 47% approve of attacks on US-led
forces. Interestingly, 41% of those who support attacks do not favor a
near-term withdrawal. One possible explanation is that the attacks are
not prompted by a desire to bring about an immediate withdrawal, but to
put pressure on the US so that it will eventually leave. Indeed, among
those who approve of such attacks, 90% believe that the US plans to
have bases in Iraq permanently and 87% assume that the US would refuse
to leave even if asked to by the new Iraqi government.
PIPA Director Steven Kull comments, "It appears that support for
attacks on US-led forces may not always be prompted by a desire for the
US to leave Iraq immediately but rather to put pressure on the US to
leave eventually—something most Iraqis perceive the US as having no
intention of doing."
for other types of attacks is sharply lower. An overwhelming 93% oppose
attacks on Iraqi government security forces (66% strongly). This is
true of all ethnic groups, including 76% of Sunnis, 97% of Shia and 99%
of Kurds. Thus, it appears that support for attacks on US-led forces is
truly aimed at US-led forces, not an indirect attempt to undermine the
new Iraqi government.
Support for attacks on Iraqi civilians is nearly nonexistent. Only 1% approve, while 95% disapprove strongly.
Sources of Urgency for Withdrawal
The major source of urgency for withdrawal is the feeling, especially
among Sunnis, that it is offensive for their country to be occupied. A
secondary reason is that US forces attract more attacks and make the
The 35% of respondents who took the position in favor of the
near-term exit of US forces from Iraq (six months) were asked: "Which
of the following reasons for withdrawing US-led forces is the most
important to you?" and given four options. The most commonly selected
answer is: "It is offensive to me to have foreign forces in my
country." This was selected by 20% (of the total sample) overall, 52%
of Sunnis, 11% of Shia and 7% of Kurds. The second most common answer
is: "The presence of US forces attracts more violent attacks and makes
things worse," which was selected by 11% overall, 26% of Sunnis, 6% of
Shia and 4% of Kurds. Far fewer chose the other two options: "It is no
longer necessary to have US-led forces in Iraq: Iraq can take care of
itself" (2%), and "I do not like the way US forces have treated Iraqi
Effects of US Withdrawal
Iraqis believe that many aspects of their lives would improve were
US-led forces to leave Iraq. Sunnis and Shia feel this way regarding
every aspect asked about, while the Kurds have more mixed views.
However, the majority is still not sure that Iraqi security forces are
ready for US-led forces to leave within a short-term time frame.
were asked what would happen in a variety of areas if US-led forces
were to withdraw from Iraq in the next six months. Majorities of Iraqis
express confidence that in many dimensions related to security, things
would improve. Sixty-seven percent say that "day to day security for
ordinary Iraqis" would increase, a consensus position among all ethnic
groups—83% of Sunnis, 61% of Shia and 57% of Kurds. On other points,
Sunnis and Shia agree, but the Kurds diverge. Overall, 64% believe that
violent attacks would decrease, including a majority of Sunnis (86%)
and Shia (66%), but 78% of Kurds think they will increase. Overall, 61%
think that the amount of interethnic violence will decrease, including
a majority of Sunnis (81%) and Shia (64%), but a majority of Kurds
(68%) think it will increase. Similarly, 56% overall agree that the
presence of foreign fighters in Iraq will decrease if US-led forces
withdraw (Sunnis 74%, Shia 64%), but 74% of Kurds think they will
there is a fair amount of consensus that if US-led troops were to
withdraw, there would be substantial improvement in the performance of
the Iraqi state. Overall, 73% think there will be an increase in the
willingness of factions to cooperate in Parliament, including
majorities of Kurds (62%), Sunnis (87%) and Shia (68%). Sixty-seven
percent assume there will be an increase in the availability of public
services such as electricity, schools and sanitation (Sunni 83%, Shia
63%, Kurds 54%). Sixty-four percent assume crime will go down (Sunnis
88%, Shia 66%), but here again the Kurds diverge, with 77% assuming
crime will increase.
Naturally the question arises, "Why do only 35% favor the US
withdrawing within six months if there would be so many assumed
benefits?" The answer may lie in the response to another question that
asked whether in six months Iraqi security forces will be "strong
enough to deal with the security challenges Iraq will face" or will
still "need the help of military forces from other countries." Overall,
59% feel that Iraqi security forces will not be strong enough,
including 55% of Shia, 58% of Sunnis and 73% of Kurds. Thus, the
presence of US troops may be perceived as an unwelcome presence that
produces many undesirable side effects, but is still necessary for a