Centripetal Force

Iraqi above all—tracking opinion

Iraq is flying to pieces. The people of Iraq just can’t get along with each other, they were only held together by authoritarian force, the country is fracturing along sectarian and ethnic lines, and it’s inevitable that with its Shi’ite majority Iraq will become a Khomeinist theocracy, dominated by Iran. Right?

Maybe not. Consider this study from sociologist Mansoor Moaddel of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research:

So far, the surveys show a decline in popular support for religious government in Iraq and an increase in support for secular political rule, said sociologist Mansoor Moaddel, who is affiliated with Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).

“Iraqis have a strong sense of national identity that transcends religious and political lines,” Moaddel said. “The recent out-pouring of national pride at the Asian Cup victory of the Iraqi soccer team showed that this sense of national pride remains strong, despite all the sectarian strife and violence.”

In the March 2007 survey, 54 percent of Iraqis surveyed described themselves as “Iraqis, above all,” (as opposed to “Muslims, above all” or “Arabs, above all”) compared with just 28 percent who described themselves that way in April 2006. Three-quarters of Iraqis living in Baghdad said they thought of themselves in terms of their national identity, as Iraqis above all.

Click on the graphic above for more complete results of the study. Hat tip: IraqPundit who adds:

For what it’s worth, these findings match my own experience. That is, most Iraqis with whom I’ve had contact want secular rule. They’re also Iraqis first, and Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds second…

Note in particular that all groups including Kurds are trending towards greater Iraqi national identity rather than lesser.

Why then did the Iraqis vote in sectarian and ethnic parties in the last election? I’m open to suggestions.

There are all sorts of possibilities. Perhaps the study is invalid and Iraqis are only answering questions the way they think pollsters want them answered. Perhaps Iraqis believed that the sectarian and ethnic parties were willing and able to bring more security to Iraq. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, quite the opposite if anything.

My own view is that the Iraqi elections were premature. That’s not a slam on the Iraqi people whom I believe acted heroically and nobly under the circumstances. I’m skeptical that you can conduct elections worthy of the name when the “political parties” are armed factions. Under those circumstances the problem happens long before people arrive at the polls when candidates are being selected and when campaigns are being conducted. Only the best armed will get their messages out.

In this vein consider this observation left by TM Lutas, rescued from comments:

The people of Iraq are watching. The people of Iraq are learning. The people of Iraq, if given the chance to vote again, will probably be removing a great deal of dead wood from their political system. Iraq has a parliamentary system. Elections can happen any time when there’s nobody able to form a government. The question is whether Iraqis have learned enough about their politicians to vote enough decent ones in so that the next government can make political reconciliation happen.

And I don’t hear anybody on any side address this question in a realistic way. The political solution for deadlocked politics in a democratic republic is to elect new politicians who can get it done. That’s the real game, hold on militarily until the people have figured out how to elect decent leaders and those new leaders strike the compromise deal that’s necessary for us to be able to leave behind a viable Iraqi state.

A unitary secular Iraq is far more in U. S. interests than a partitioned one, especially a partitioned Iraq that acts as a battleground for ancient rivalries and the present-day political ambitions of its neighbors. Until and unless the Iraqi military and police have the ability and will to prevent this from happening on behalf of the majority of Iraqis who I continue to be convinced mostly want to live their lives in peace, the primary force that prevents the minority from getting their way and pushing Iraq into further chaos is the United States military.

6 comments… add one
  • Why then did the Iraqis vote in sectarian and ethnic parties in the last election?

    For the same reasons people keep re-electing their own Congress Critter while decrying the horrible state of Congress as a whole: We vote for the people we know. If I’m Sunni and live in a Sunni neighborhood, I’m more likely to know the Sunni candidate for office because he lives in my neighborhood. Don’t be surprised that when (if) the next iraqi general election occurs, a lot of the same useless pols get re-elected. We do that here (US) every two years….

  • pennywit Link

    Let me toss something else at you here, though. The problem with a survey of the general Iraqi population, as I see it, is that it doesn’t survey those who have power (i.e., guns, money, influence). And if you look at people who have the power, particularly such sterling examples of humanity as Moqtada al-Sadr, you run into individuals who have a vested interest in carving the nation up into fiefdoms of one sort or another.

    Two more questions:

    1) Do the findings include a breakdown rural Iraqis’ opinions vs. urban Iraqis’ opinions? There may be some variance there.

    2) Did the survey-takers ask about family and tribe identification? There may be ties there that are stronger than either national identity or Shiite/Kurd/Sunni identity.


  • “Why then did the Iraqis vote in sectarian and ethnic parties in the last election? I’m open to suggestions.”

    Because they didn’t know any better! Really, how could they? They voted for the only leaders they knew.

    We have a very different view of democracy and free press because we’ve had it so long. Iraqis are just starting learn about concepts like achieving peace by empowering moderates and politicians’ accountability to the electorate.

    You have to crawl before you can walk. The Iraqi electorate, long pinned to the floor with a boot in their collective face, has just staggered to its feet and started to get its bearings.

  • My own view is that the Iraqi elections were premature.

    If anything, the opposite is true. Yes, the elections caused problems, but consider how much worse things would be without them: any unelected U.S.-supported government would be considered illegitimate.

    Elections should have been held in 2003, then again in 2005 and 2007. Young democracies have a steep learning curve.

  • If you took a poll in 1860 you’d find the overwhelming majority of people opposed to civil war. We still had one. And we were an established democracy of sorts. Out there in the cold cruel world beyond western democracy it doesn’t matter much what the sheep want if the wolves want something different.

    Look, the whole strategy of the surge is to buy political time for the Maliki government. They refuse absolutely to use that time. Now we’re trying to reposition the strategy to mean something else. We’re all supposed to shift back to the “stand up, stand down” theory we were getting a year or two ago. So, if the government doesn’t perform we can pretend that all that matters is the Iraqi army. Bait and switch.

    The usefulness of the Iraqi army comes down to a simple question: if Sadr says “come home,” how many men take off their Iraqi uniforms and join his militia. Repeat the test with the other militias and factions. If the answer is a significant number, then the army is a chimera.

    It’s hard for me to see where an army alone, lacking a real government to serve, holds a country together. And you’ll forgive me if after 4 years of happy talk about the Iraqi army I am skeptical about these optimistic reports.

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