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Poll shows most Iraqis unhappy with presence of coalition forces

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Most Iraqis feel unsafe in their neighborhoods, think the local Iraqi police can protect them better than coalition forces and increasingly view Americans as occupiers rather than liberators, according to a poll released Thursday by the independent, privately funded Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies in Baghdad.

Coalition forces have squandered the goodwill that resulted from removing Saddam Hussein from power, with nearly 43 percent of Iraqis viewing them as liberators six months ago but only 14.8 percent feeling the same way now.

More than 60 percent of Iraqis have little or no confidence that coalition forces will improve safety, but at least half (50.1 percent) support the coalition presence in Iraq, compared with 33.1 percent who would like to kick them out.

The sample of 1,620 people in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Ramadi, Fallujah, Erbil and Suliamaniyah, interviewed between Sept. 28 and Oct. 10, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 points. The results are the third installment in a monthly polling operation run by Sadoun al Dulame, director of the research center.

The survey comes amid increasing attacks on U.S. soldiers in the past couple of weeks. While U.S. officials insist postwar Iraq is improving, there have been more attacks from roadside and homemade bombs as well as an increase in suicide bombings.

The results reflect the challenges of handing over authority to the Iraqis, which Americans say they want to do as quickly as possible, but at a pace most Iraqis think isn't fast enough.

"We expect after three or six months if the same problems continue to exist in Iraq, the coalition forces are going to suffer a lot," said Dulame.

Most Iraqi respondents said there were no current political leaders they could trust. They rated members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, most of whom fared poorly.

Asked which political system they favored, 33.7 percent of the randomly picked respondents said an Islamic government would be best, compared with 30.5 percent who favored democracy and 24 percent who favored a combination of democracy and an Islamic system.

Asked to rate various countries as their favorite political model for a future Iraq, 13.7 percent chose Iran while only 9.6 percent chose the United States.

Dulame said the results didn't mean a majority of Iraqis want hardline clerics to rule them. In fact, religious leaders ranked behind lawyers, writers and other professionals as the best people to lead postwar Iraq.

"Most of the respondents don't know enough to know the nature of such systems so they chose that regime or this regime because they feel or think it is better than the other," said Nabeel al Ani, a professor at Baghdad University's International Studies Center.

"Some of the people have no idea, for example, about the political system in France or Britain or even the United States, but they have at least some knowledge about the political system in Iran, so most of them choose it."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.