Day By Day

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Progress in Iraq

One of the main objections raised by opponents of efforts to democratize Iraq is the assumption that the Iraqi people just aren't ready for democracy (and won't be for many generations). It is certainly true that simply holding elections will not magically transform a culture, but that was never the administration's position -- simply a travesty of their thinking constructed by critics. President Bush has always made it quite clear that building democracy in the Middle East would be a long, hard, dangerous slog, but that it was an effort worth undertaking, indeed it was necessary to the broader fight against the Islamist radicals.

Clifford May recently noted a University of Michigan Institute for Social Research study of attitudes among Iraqis that shows marked shifts in perspective between 2004 and 2006. Although negative feelings toward America increased [a point that was emphasized in news coverage] there were several more positive results found in the survey data. Most important,

significantly more Iraqis support democratic values, including the separation of religion and politics.

In 2004, 27 percent of the 2,325 Iraqi adults surveyed strongly agreed that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated. In 2006, 41 percent of 2,701 adults surveyed strongly agreed.

"The findings of this second survey show that even though Iraqis have a more negative attitude to foreigners, especially Americans, they are moving closer to American values and are developing a much stronger sense of national identity," said Mansoor Moaddel, a sociologist at Eastern Michigan University and at the ISR.

What is more:

In one indication of a possible lessening of sectarian conflict, the proportion of Iraqis who identified themselves as Muslim Arabs rather than as Shi'a or Sunni Arabs increased from 6 percent in 2004 to 14 percent in 2006.

The percentage of those surveyed who agreed with the statement "I am an Iraqi above all" rose from 23 percent in 2004 to 28 percent in 2006 in the country as a whole, from 23 percent to 33 percent in urban areas, and from 30 percent to 62 percent among Baghdad residents.

Read it here.

This is significant. Nationalism, secularism, and respect for democratic values are on the rise in Iraq. Religious fundamentalists are being marginalized. Couple this with the recent collapse of the Sunni insurgency, the new willingness of Shiite leaders to crack down on militias such as the Mahdi "Army", and economic statistics showing a broad and deep recovery throughout Iraq and the prospects for a good outcome there are actually quite good. Good, that is, if the US effort can be sustained.

Read May's article here.

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