Obama: Listen to Iraqi Opinion
Eric Stoner

Iraqi citizens show their purple fingers after the country’s first parliamentary elections December 15, 2005. Will their voices be heard by the New Administration? Photo: Lance Corporal Michael J. O’Brian, www.defendamerica.mil.

In discussing his plans for the Iraq War during the presidential campaign, one group that Barack Obama seldom, if ever, mentioned as supporting his proposed policy was the Iraqi people.

Obama’s campaign website, which differs only slightly from his transition website, lays out very clearly what he sees as problematic with the Iraq War. It only highlights US casualties and the exorbitant financial cost of the war, while arguing from a strategic perspective that the diversion of troops and resources to Iraq “continues to set back our ability to finish the fight in Afghanistan.”

Not only is Iraqi opinion completely ignored, but Obama’s website actually blames the victim — a popular line with both Democrats and Republicans — by stating that “the Iraqi government has not stepped forward to lead the Iraqi people.” How Iraqis are supposed to take control of their destiny with 146,000 US troops — and an even larger number of US contractors — in their country is apparently not a relevant question.

Since the war began, the Iraqis have been extensively polled and the results are telling. Below is a sampling of these poll results.

1) A March 2008 poll by Opinion Business Research found that 70% of Iraqis wanted foreign troops to leave. Of that group, 65% said they wanted the troops to leave “immediately or as soon as possible,” and another 13% responded “within six months.” Such sentiment has remained fairly consistent since shortly after the US invasion. In April 2004, for example, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 57% of Iraqis wanted the US and British forces to “leave immediately.”

Obama has repeatedly pledged to “responsibly end the war in Iraq,” convincing many of his supporters who didn’t dig beneath the campaign rhetoric that he was the “peace candidate.” Obama’s plan from the beginning, however, has consisted of withdrawing only the “combat brigades” over a 16-month period and leaving behind a “residual force in Iraq [that] would perform limited missions.”

2) According to a March 2008 poll, conducted by ABC News, only 27% of Iraqis said the US military presence was making overall security better in their country. If US forces were to leave the country entirely, 46% of those polled said the security situation would improve, while 29% said it would worsen and 23% believed it would remain the same.

The fact that the vast majority of Iraqis believe that US forces are more a cause of the violence in their country than the solution, and feel that they would be safer after we leave, renders one of the only arguments still made by proponents of the war for our continued occupation — that we are protecting the population and thwarting a wider civil war — effectively moot.

3) In the March 2008 poll for ABC News cited above, when Iraqis were asked about the security situation in the country as a whole over the last six months, 36% said that it had improved, 26% thought that it had worsened, and 37% said that it had stayed about the same. Within the group that thought that security had improved, 57% said either the Iraqi government, army, or police deserved the most credit for the improvement, while only 4% said US forces.

Looked at another way, less than 1.5% of Iraqis credit the increased number of US troops in their country with an improvement in security. Such results must be almost unintelligible to anyone who has relied on the glowing portrayal of the so-called “surge” in Iraq by the government and the mainstream media.

4) In the same poll, when asked about how they would like their territory to be structured politically, 66% of the Iraqis said they wanted to have “one unified Iraq with [a] central government in Baghdad,” 23% preferred “a group of regional states with their own regional government and a federal government in Baghdad,” and only 9% said they wanted to divide “the country into separate independent states.”

Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s plan — which he apparently still supports — to divide Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines made him a very unpopular choice for vice president with Iraqis. In an op-ed for the New York Times in 2006, he and Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations argued that Iraq should “establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Senate then passed a non-binding resolution endorsing Biden’s plan in the fall of 2007.

Obama didn’t vote on the measure; however, he never denounced the plan as being at odds with Iraqi opinion.

5) An August 2007 poll conducted by KA Research found that 63% of Iraqis preferred that their country’s oil reserves “be developed and produced by Iraqi state-owned companies,” including a majority from every geographical, ethnic, and sectarian group.

At the beginning of 2007, President Bush made the passage of an “oil law” one of his 18 “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government. Despite being regularly described as an agreement to ensure the equitable distribution of oil revenues, the legislation would effectively privatize the vast majority of Iraqi’s oil reserves.  While this was the only war-funding bill that Obama voted against during his tenure in the Senate, he always supported the benchmarks as the correct guideposts to measure the Iraqi government’s political progress.

It would not be hard for the incoming administration to assuage the Iraqis’ fear that the US will not leave until it has opened up their country’s vast oil reserves to foreign corporations. Whether Obama is listening to the Iraqi people, however, is the question.

Eric is a freelance writer based in New York and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus where this article was original published. This is a digest of the full article which is at www.peacecouncil.net.