The Attitudes of Ordinary Iraqis in 2004 and 2006
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In 2004 Mark Tessler, Ronald Inglehart, and Mansoor Moaddelconducted a survey of the attitudes of Iraqi citizens toward the U.S. presence in their country, and their aspirations for governance. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2006, and the article below provides a summary of key results from both surveys.
Together with two colleagues, Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan and Mansoor Moaddel of Eastern Michigan University, and with funding from the National Science Foundation, I shared in the direction of a large national political attitude survey in Iraq. The interview schedule was administered to 2,325 randomly selected Iraqi men and women in November and December 2004, and I presented some of the survey findings in the fall 2005 issue of this journal. The findings reported in that article dealt with attitudes about governance, including attitudes toward democracy and toward the political role of Islam. They also included attitudes toward the forces of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
A follow-up survey with a representative national sample of 2,701 Iraqis was carried out in March and April 2006, 16 months after the 2004 survey. A few of the findings from the more recent survey, along with findings from the earlier study presented for purposes of comparison, are shown in the three tables that follow.
It has been almost a year since the 2006 survey was conducted, and the circumstances in Iraq have evolved considerably during this period. Accordingly, the findings presented here may or may not characterize the present situation. But some clear tendencies are visible in the patterns that come through in both surveys. Further, the period between spring 2004 and fall 2006 was marked by a continuing deterioration of the security situation and mounting sectarian conflict, and whether and how this had an impact on the views of ordinary citizens can be seen in differences between the 2004 and 2006 surveys.
The accompanying tables present the distribution of Iraqi attitudes on three important issues—one dealing with identity, one with the relationship between religion and politics, and one with attitudes toward forces in the U.S.-led coalition. Further, the data are disaggregated in each instance on the basis of ethno-religious community, so that tables show the response distributions of Sunni Arabs, Shi’i Arabs, and Sunni Kurds, as well as all respondents. Although the tables are limited to univariate distributions, the importance of the continuing war in Iraq and the difficulty of obtaining objective information about the views of ordinary Iraqis give value to an account that is limited to description, and leaves for another occasion any serious attempt at explanation.
Table 1 presents responses to a question about the relative importance of national and communal identities. Specifically, it asks “Which of the following is more important: (1) preserving the identity and defending the interests of the confessional community (Shi’i, Sunni, Kurd) to which you belong, or (2) working to forge a common national identity that unifies all citizens of Iraq?” It asks respondents to answer this question using a 10-point scale in which 1 indicates maximum concern for “defending my community” and 10 indicates maximum concern for “forging a national Iraqi identity.”
Table 1 shows that in both years the response distribution is heavily skewed in favor of a national Iraqi identity. But while this clearly was the case in 2004, the tendency is even more pronounced in 2006. On the 10-point scale, with 10 reflecting maximum support for forging a national identity, roughly two-thirds of those surveyed in 2004 indicated that their view was expressed by a score of either 9 or 10. In 2006, despite escalating sectarian violence, either a 9 or a 10 was selected by over three-fourths of the respondents.
A comparison of Sunni Arabs, Shi’i Arabs, and Sunni Kurds indicates that this trend is in evidence in all three groups. It is somewhat more pronounced among Sunni Arabs, whose attachment to an Iraqi national identity is strongest in both years. But the response distribution of Shi’i Arabs is strongly skewed in the same direction; 77.1 percent of the Shi’a interviewed in 2006 selected either a 9 or a 10 to indicate the relative importance of a national as opposed to a confessional identity. And perhaps most surprisingly, Kurdish respondents, although fairly divided on this issue in 2004, were significantly more likely to attach importance to a national identity in 2006. In that year, 53.5 percent gave either a 9 or a 10, and 71.8 percent gave a response of 7 or higher, indicating that “forging a national Iraqi identity” is clearly more important than “defending my community.”
Table 2 shows political system preferences. It presents the distribution across categories based on responses to a series of questions about democracy and also about the role of religion in politics. The table shows that most respondents favor the establishment of a democratic political system in Iraq, but that opinions are divided about the political role of religion among those who support democracy. The table further shows that this pattern is about the same in 2004 and 2006, with 91.1 percent favoring democracy in the former year, 88.7 percent holding this view in the latter year, and in both years no less than 47 percent and no more than 51 percent of those who favor democracy preferring a political system in which religion plays an important political role.
Table 2 also shows that there are notable differences in the political system preferences of Sunnis, Shi’a, and Kurds and, in addition, particularly among Sunnis and Kurds, that there are some differences in the distribution of these preferences in 2004 and 2006. In both 2004 and 2006, it is only among Shi’i respondents that a majority favors democracy with religion, meaning a democratic political system in which religious leaders, institutions, and/or codes play a significant role. But while this sets Shi’a apart from Sunnis and Kurds, the magnitude of the difference should not be overstated, especially in 2004. In that year, more than one-third of the Shi’i respondents favored secular democracy, meaning a democratic political system in which religion does not play an important role, and one-third or more of the Sunnis and Kurds favor a political formula that is not only democratic, but that does assign an important role to religion. Thus, in 2004, there were important differences within, as well as across, Iraq’s ethno-religious communities.
Although the pattern is roughly similar in 2006, there has also been an increase in the difference between Shi’a on the one hand and Sunnis and Kurds on the other. The distribution of Shi’a political system preferences did not change much between 2004 and 2006. Among Sunnis and Kurds, by contrast, support for democracy with religion decreased, and support for democracy without religion increased. Thus, despite continuing differences within each ethno-religious community, the period between November–December 2004 and March–April 2006 brought an increase in the differing political system preferences of Shi’a on the one hand, and Sunnis and Kurds on the other.
Table 3 presents responses to a question about coalition forces in Iraq. Specifically, it asks respondents whether they strongly support, support, oppose, or strongly oppose the presence of coalition forces in their country. There was strong opposition in 2004, and this opposition is even stronger in 2006, with 61.0 percent strongly opposed in the former year and 81.9 percent strongly opposed in the latter year. If somewhat opposed and strongly opposed are considered together, the respective percentages are 74.3 and 89.5.
It is notable that strong opposition to the coalition presence is expressed not only among Sunnis, but also among Shi’a, who presumably are beneficiaries of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation. In 2006, 89.7 percent of the Shi’i respondents were strongly opposed to coalition forces in their country. Equally notable is the increase in opposition among the Kurds between 2004 and 2006. In the former year, only 12.1 percent were strongly opposed and only 7.5 percent were somewhat opposed. In 2006, by contrast, the figures were 29.2 and 27.2 respectively. Thus, in sum, both Sunnis and Shi’a are extremely unhappy with the presence of coalition forces, and the Kurds, who were most supportive at the time of the first survey, are now quite divided in their attitudes toward the U.S.-led coalition.
Beyond the scope of the present report, these findings raise questions about the reasons behind the patterns observed. Are there particular attributes and experiences that account for the variance found in each year, including the variance both within and among Iraq’s ethno-religious communities? Similarly, what events and experiences occurring during the interval between the two surveys might account for differences over time in the nature and distribution of attitudes about identity, political system preferences, and views about the coalition forces in Iraq? Responding to these questions, involving a move from description to explanation, is among the objectives of this ongoing research endeavor.
Mark Tessler is director of the International Institute, vice provost for international affairs, Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science, and research professor at the Center for Political Studies in U-M’s Institute for Social Research. A specialist in comparative politics and Middle East studies, he has worked in Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Egypt, and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza). Professor Tessler is the author or coauthor of 11 books and over 100 scholarly articles.
Vice provost of international affairs and director of the International Institute at U-M; professor of political science at U-M; and professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, respectively.
Mark Tessler, “Iraq Assessments of the U.S. Presence in Their Country,” Journal of the International Institute 13(1), 2005, available on the web at http://www.hti.umich.edu/j/jii/