Last one from the archives for now. Did this after getting angry at the nonsense I woke up hearing on BBC Radio 1’s news bulletin back in 2004. Originally posted on Indymedia UK, where you can find some debate about it.
by Asa Winstanley
The national survey of Iraq conducted this February by Oxford Research International hit the news on the 16th of March. The poll of well over 2000 Iraqis was sponsored by the BBC in the UK, ABC in the US, ARD of Germany and the NHK in Japan. A news bulletin on the BBC’s Radio 1 claimed that “most Iraqi’s think their lives are better than before the war a year ago” according to the poll. In the US, the New York Times also covered the story, but gave it less prominence (1). They write that the poll finds “an upbeat sense among most that their lives were better than before the war” although “other questions about the invasion provoked more negative reactions”. The BBC news website headlined with the story (2), musing that the poll will “make good reading for US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair”. This is no doubt true when viewed through the ideological bias of the New York Times and the BBC. A cursory look beyond their ‘liberal objectivity’ at the actual facts of the survey suggests very different conclusions.
The poll question that the media have most focused on is also the most vague one: “compared to a year ago, I mean before the war in spring 2003 [sic], are things overall in your life [better or worse]?”. Although it is true that 35% replied with “somewhat better” to this question, 36% said it was “about the same” or “somewhat worse”. Considering that one of the worst dictators the world has seen in modern times was still ruler of Iraq a year ago, these should be astonishing figures to those (such as the BBC) who expect gratitude from Iraqis. It seems the majority of respondents think the occupation is at best only “somewhat better” or “about the same” as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Seen in this light the brave face that the liberal media have tried to put on this starts to melt away. A basic examination of the rest of the poll tells us even more about the imperialist ideology of Western media, considering the figures they have chosen not to discuss.
It should tell us something that Iraqi support for a war that has led to the toppling of such a tyrant is extremely shallow. The respondents were split, with 39% saying the invasion in March 2003 was wrong and 49% right. The reasons for this should be seriously considered by anyone in the West who cares about the conduct of their government. The western media often try to imply that Iraqis are somehow naturally inclined towards dictatorship. The BBC Online article continues: “Dan Plesch, a security expert at Birkbeck college in London said that the poll was good news for the leaders of countries who began the invasion a year ago this week. ‘This poll indicates that Iraqis strongly support a unified country with strong leadership’ ” (3) who will run the country with the same discipline as Saddam Hussein that “presentable young man” with an “engaging smile,” who we can “do business” with according to the British Embassy in Baghdad in 1969 (4). The New York Times article takes a similar view: “the largest share of respondents – 47 percent – said what their country needed most in 12 months was a ‘single, strong Iraqi leader’. Twenty-eight percent said an Iraqi democracy was most important, and 10 percent said the priority should be ‘a government made up mainly of religious leaders’ “. This result is for the question “What do you think Iraq needs in 12 months time? Five years time?”. The results of the part of the question that takes a five year perspective are reversed: 42% prioritised democracy, while 36% mentioned a strong leader. Note the selection of facts: the second aspect of the same question is unmentioned by the New York Times. The BBC omits the entire question. This only serves the imperialist ideology that views Iraqis as irresponsible Arabs who need to be led by enlightened Western powers. Unsurprisingly, Iraqis overwhelmingly disagree with this point of view. In fact the support for a broad, indigenous, representative democracy seen in the poll is striking when the actual figures are viewed without the ideologically tinted sunglasses of the Western media. In fact, 72% agreed with the statement that Iraq needed a democracy. Again; out of fourteen options of political configureation, the most popular was a “democracy” run by “democrats” (42%) with “an Islamic state and religious politicians” receiving only 11%.
The BBC too implies that Iraqis actually want to be dominated: “[the US government’s] favoured son Ahmed Chalabi had no support at all, while Saddam Hussein remains one of the six most popular politicians in the country”. True enough in relative terms, though it conveniently omits the simple truth that the respondents had no trust in any politicians: 58% said they trust none in the offered list or gave no answer. Saddam Hussein only scored 3.3% of the trust vote, with former CIA man Ahmed Chalabi accruing a mere 0.2 of a percent worth of trust.
The respondents overwhelming concern for the next 12 months is for security in the country (64%). When presented with a variety of parties from which to choose who should take care of securitry, the vast majority mention an Iraqi government and the people of Iraq, not the occupying powers. Thirty three percent say an Iraqi government while 17% reply “the people” (the two highest figures). Only 8% said the USA should take care of security and only 5% chose the “coalition forces” (even less chose the UN at 1%).
The BBC News Online article tries to present itself as an exploder of received truths claiming that the poll “suggests that the reporting of the daily attacks on the occupying forces in Iraq could be obscuring another picture”, one of Iraqis “adjusting to life with an occupying force” (5). Once again, the facts tell a different story. Most respondents (51%) still oppose the presence of the occupying forces, with 15% saying that they should leave the country immediately and 17% accepting armed attacks on “coalition” troops. Thirty percent even said that the immediate departure of coalition forces would be “very effective” as regards the security of the country, although 35% think that they should stay until an Iraqi government is in place.
Perhaps the most telling poll question answer of all lists several organisations and asks how much confidence respondents had in each. A quick look at the responses will tell you all you need to know about why neither the BBC nor the New York Times mention the question at all. An overwhelming 42% of respondents said they had “no confidence at all” in the US and UK occupying forces, with 24% saying “not very much” and only 25% expressing any sort confidence at all in the occupiers.
Whatever arrangements are made for self determination in Iraq, we should not delude ourselves that the current occupiers are trusted by the population, for reasons which by now should be too obvious to point out. Nor should we delude ourselves that the Western media are anything other than deeply indoctrinated in the service of great power.
(1) New York Times, 16 March 2004, “Ambivalence From Iraqis in Poll on War”,
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/16/international/middleeast/16SURV.html (accessed 16/3/2004)
(2) BBC News Online, 16 March 2004, “Survey finds hope in occupied Iraq”,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3514504.stm (accessed 16/3/2004, 01:17 GMT version)
(4) Biographic sketch of Saddam Hussein by British Embassy Baghdad, November 15, 1969. Telegram from British Embassy Baghdad to Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “Saddam Hussein,” December 20, 1969. Public Record Office, London, FCO 17/871. Available online from the National Security Archive, George Washington University: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB107/index.htm
(5) BBC, “Survey finds hope in occupied Iraq”, Op. cit.
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