October 22, 2006
Majorities of Iraqi youth in Arab regions of the country believe security would improve and violence decrease if the U.S.-led forces left immediately, according to a State Department poll that provides a window into the grim warnings provided to policymakers.
The survey -- unclassified, but marked "For Official U.S. Government Use Only" -- also finds that Iraqi leaders may face particular difficulty recruiting young Sunni Arabs to join the stumbling security forces. Strong majorities of 15- to 29-year-olds in two Arab Sunni areas -- Mosul and Tikrit-Baquba -- would oppose joining the Iraqi army or police.
The poll has its shortcomings; regional samples are small and the results do not say how many people refused to respond to questions. The private polling firm hired by the State Department also was not able to interview residents of al-Anbar, a Sunni-dominated province and an insurgent stronghold.
But the findings of the summer survey -- circulated to policymakers last month and obtained by The Associated Press last week -- nevertheless provide a solemn reminder of the difficulty that the U.S.-backed Iraqi government faces as it tries to add ethnic diversity to its security institutions.
As Iraqi leaders try to diversify the ethnic and religious backgrounds of their security forces, the department's opinion analysis said that Arab Sunnis may be particularly hard to recruit.
In Arab Sunni areas, "confidence in the Iraqi army and police is low, and majorities oppose enlisting in either force," the analysis said. "Even recruitment in Arab Shia areas could present challenges as sizable numbers of local youth express support" for local militias, "thus clouding the issue of loyalty to national forces."
The analysis was headlined "Youth In Iraq's Arab Sunni Regions Not Eager to Enlist in National Army, Police" and highlighted views from those areas.
Yet in its assessment of the broader picture for Iraq, which includes Kurds and Arab Shiites, there were pieces of good news: A majority of young Iraqis would be willing to join the security forces or support a family member who did, the survey found.
On Thursday, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said a two-month old U.S.-Iraqi bid to quell the violence in the Iraqi capital did "not met our overall expectations." Attacks in Baghdad rose by 22 percent in the first three weeks of Ramadan.
"We are working very closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best to refocus our efforts," he said.
The Bush administration quietly has released findings from previous surveys to highlight increases in political participation or other hopeful signs.
A State Department spokeswoman, Janelle Hironimus, said poll results are not for public release.
"Reliable and accurate assessments of international public opinion at any given point in time are important to the work of our embassies abroad and to policymakers in Washington," she said.
In this poll, nine out of 10 young Iraqi Arabs said they see the U.S. and allied forces in Iraq as an occupying force. The majority of Iraqi youth in Arab regions -- half in Baghdad and Kirkuk -- also believe the security situation and the violence levels would improve if the U.S. and its allies left immediately.
On the contrary, 70 percent of young Iraqi Kurds see the multinational forces as a liberating force.
This survey was circulated among government and congressional officials, part of a stream of near-daily updates from intelligence and defense agencies about the political and security situation in Iraq.
House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said he has been told repeatedly over the past 18 months that the situation in Iraq is difficult. But he is skeptical of polls in Iraq -- positive or negative. "I don't know how you go into an environment like Iraq and do effective polling," he said.
Meanwhile, some Democrats say they are not getting enough information from the Bush administration about the situation in Iraq.
California Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is pushing the administration to release what she has described as a bleak estimate on the situation there.
Harman continues to believe that the document is similar to the government's highest-level assessments, called National Intelligence Estimates, and wants it released. Administration officials have said such an estimate on Iraq began in August, and it could take months to complete.
Said Harman: "I think the intelligence on Iraq is dismal, and it is time for the White House to stop being an evidence-free zone."