Iraqis have America-fatigue, poll shows

By Christian Berthelsen

Los Angeles Times

March 19, 2007

On the fourth anniversary today of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an extensive poll of public attitudes about the prolonged occupation shows Iraqis are tiring of the American presence and are deeply skeptical of its motives, even as many believe life is now better without Saddam Hussein.

It was another day of scattered sectarian violence around the country, with a bomb planted at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Baghdad killing eight people and five closely timed explosions around the disputed northern city of Kirkuk killing 12. A roadside bomb in Baghdad killed three people, and another north of the city injured four.

America's involvement in Iraq is now approaching the length of its commitment in World War II.

Despite the ravages of sectarian warfare and rocky delivery of basic services such as electricity, nearly half of more than 5,000 Iraqis surveyed said life was better now than under Hussein's regime, while 26% who said it was worse. And nearly two-thirds of the respondents want to see their nation remain as one, rather than being partitioned along regional and ethnic lines.

Still, more than half said they believed the security situation would improve immediately after American-led forces withdraw from the country. And nearly a quarter said they believed the purpose of President Bush's plan to "surge" more than 20,000 additional troops into Iraq was to use the country as a base from which to attack other Middle Eastern nations.

The poll was the largest of its kind published since the U.S.-led invasion and was based on face-to-face interviews last month with randomly selected Iraqis in all 18 of the country's provinces, balanced for urban and rural representation. It was commissioned by Opinion Research Business, a London market research firm whose clients include Morgan Stanley and Brown-Forman Beverages, the makers of Jack Daniel's whiskey.

"One thing Sunnis and Shiites agree on is that Iraq should remain one country," said Johnny Heald, a managing director of the firm. But "the bottom line is that our poll confirms that people believe the security situation will improve when the Multi-National Force leaves."

A quarter of the poll respondents said a relative had been murdered in the last three years, and nearly half said they believed Iraq had either devolved into full-blown civil war or was close to it. Still, 45% said they believe the new security crackdown will work.

A separate poll commissioned by media groups including ABC and USA Today found a similarly grim outlook, with the number of people who felt life was "going well" had declined from 71% in November 2005 to 39% now. Only 18% said they had confidence in U.S. troops, and half said they thought violence against American forces was "acceptable."

In today's mosque attack, police said a bomb appeared to have been placed near the podium from which the imam was delivering his sermon at the Hussein Ibn Roh Mosque in Shorja during the noon prayers.

In Kirkuk, a car bomb was closely followed by a roadside bomb and a second car bomb during the afternoon, followed by two more roadside bombs about half an hour later. In addition to the 12 killed, 43 were injured.

Kirkuk is an oil-rich city in northern Iraq; Kurds feel it is theirs and should be part of its autonomous region, but Shiites and Sunnis who settled there during a four-decade Baathist effort to "Arabize" the region also lay claim to it.

Times staff writers Zeena Kareem, Suhail Ahmad and Said Rifai contributed to this report, as did special correspondents in Baghdad and Kirkuk.