Poll reveals hostility to US and support for rebel cleric

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The Independent Online

The Bush administration's last remaining justification for the invasion of Iraq has been demolished by a private poll revealing that only 2 per cent of Iraqis regard the occupying forces as liberators.

The Bush administration's last remaining justification for the invasion of Iraq has been demolished by a private poll revealing that only 2 per cent of Iraqis regard the occupying forces as liberators.

The poll results are devastating for both President George Bush and Tony Blair, who are fond of saying that future generations of Iraqis will thank them for liberating their country. Tony Blair has consistently said that history will prove him right for engineering the downfall of a cruel tyrant, even if weapons of mass destruction were not found.

President Bush, giving a pep-talk to American soldiers in Florida yesterday, said: "We have come not to conquer, but to liberate people and we will stand with them until their freedom is secure."

Yet the main findings of the poll, which was commissioned by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) last month and which was leaked yesterday, reveal that only 2 per cent of the Iraqis polled in mid-May see coalition troops as liberators, while 92 per cent said they were occupiers. In a crumb of comfort for the coalition, only
3 per cent expressed support for Saddam Hussein.

A total of 54 per cent believed that all Americans behaved like the guards at Abu Ghraib. But 71 per cent of those polled in face-to-face interviews in six Iraqi cities said they were surprised by the guards' behaviour.

Safety and security emerged as a major concern for the population in general, as nearly half of Iraqis said they felt unsafe in their neighbourhoods.

Asked whether they would feel safer if the 138,000 US troops left immediately, 55 per cent agreed, nearly double the 28 per cent who held that view in a poll carried out in January.

Asked if the Americans should leave immediately, 41 per cent agreed, while 45 per cent said they preferred US forces to leave once a permanent Iraqi government was installed.

Hostility towards the Americans was also reflected in strong support for the rebel Shia leader, Muqtada Sadr, who galvanised the resistance to the occupation in April. His blend of religion and populism has proved popular The CPA's poll shows that 67 per cent of Iraqis say they support or strongly support him, making him the most popular man in the country after the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. A total of 81 per cent of Iraqis had an improved opinion of Sadr in May from three months earlier, and 64 per cent said the acts of his insurgents had made Iraq more unified. But only 2 per cent would support him for president. The coalition's confidence rating in May stood at 11 per cent, down from 47 per cent in November, while the troops themselves had the support of only 10 per cent.

The survey questioned 1,093 adults who were selected randomly in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Diwaniyah, Hillah and Baquba between 14 and 23 May.

The White House spokesman, Scott McClelland, put on a brave face when reacting to the survey: "The President has previously said no one wants to be occupied. And we don't want to be occupiers," he said

But a coalition official in Baghdad interviewed by the Associated Press news agency, which obtained the survey, was despondent. "If you are sitting here as part of the coalition, it [the poll] is pretty grim," said Donald Hamilton, a career diplomat who helps oversee the CPA's polling of Iraqis.

In Washington, Congressman Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he found the poll "disturbing. ... It demonstrates quite jarringly that we are not winning the hearts and minds" of Iraqis.

Among the poll's other findings, 63 per cent believed conditions would improve when the Iraqi interim government takes over at the end of the month, and 62 per cent believed it was "very likely" the Iraqi police and army would maintain security without US forces.

A State Department spokes-
man said: "Let's face it. That's the goal, to build those up to the point where they can take charge in Iraq and they can maintain security in Iraq."

The Foreign Office had no comment last night.

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