As a persistent insurgency against the US occupation continued in the Sunni heartland of Iraq this summer, the world’s attention was focused on the increasingly acrimonious negotiations over the text of a new Constitution. The failure of Shiite and Kurdish factions to find agreement with Sunni negotiators led to predictions of heightened support for the insurgency among the Sunni population and a determined campaign on their part to reject the Constitution in the October referendum. It would be reasonable to conclude from mainstream press accounts that opposition to the occupation is strong only in Sunni areas.
In fact, with the notable exception of the Kurdish population, support for the American military among Iraqis is virtually nonexistent two and a half years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government. Before January’s elections, polls taken by Sadoun Dulaimi (now the country’s defense minister) indicated that 85 percent of Iraqis wanted a US withdrawal “as soon as possible.” On a recent trip to the country, this journalist found that dissatisfaction with the occupation has, if anything, grown.
There are a litany of reasons for this, from the postinvasion looting that occurred as US soldiers sat idle, to the abuses in Abu Ghraib prison, to the flattening of Falluja and the ongoing operations along the Euphrates River in the western part of Iraq, which inflict widespread destruction and casualties among the local population while failing to remove resistance fighters. Added to this is the frustrating lack of improvement in basic services like water and electricity and the fact that wherever US troops patrol, insurgent attacks and civilian loss of life are sure to follow.
Iraqis crave security and something approaching a normal life, but such goals remain elusive. Along the highways in southern, predominantly Shiite, Iraq, villages and towns have posted signs along the road requesting in English that the foreign troops remain outside their municipalities. “This is a peaceful area,” one sign reads. “Please do not enter.” In Baghdad al-Jadida, a middle-class neighborhood that was the site of a suicide car-bombing in July that killed one US soldier and twenty-seven children, mourning parents placed as much blame on the US troops, who were handing out candy, as they did on the man who had driven his car into the crowd.
“I think if you go back to the [January] election campaign, every list promised to provide security and help our friends in the multinational forces go home,” said Adnan al-Janabi, one of the eighty-two members of the 275-member Iraqi National Assembly who in June signed a letter calling for the withdrawal of the US military and other foreign forces. When pressed, most Assembly members will admit that it is less than ideal to have foreign troops in their country (since June several dozen more have informally indicated their agreement with the letter). The fact that only a minority of parliamentarians are calling for withdrawal is indicative of the groups that took part in the elections. Underrepresented in the signing of the letter, and in the Assembly itself, are members of the country’s Sunni Arab community, most of whom did not participate in the elections for fear of retribution or out of a refusal to legitimize the process. If, as many of their leaders have urged, they participate in the October referendum on the Constitution and in the elections scheduled for December, the number of politicians seeking to hasten the speedy exit of US troops will certainly increase. Both those boycotting participation in the government and those in the armed resistance, mostly Sunni, have repeatedly demanded a timetable for withdrawal.