New York Times - September 16, 2007
What They're Saying in Anbar Province
By GARY LANGER
IN his address to the nation on Thursday, President Bush singled out
progress in Anbar Province as the model for United States success in
Iraq. The president's claims echoed those made earlier in the week by
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, in his
Congressional testimony. And they raised a question worth examining:
Do United States military alliances with Sunni tribal leaders truly
reflect a turning of hearts and minds away from Anbar's bitter anti-
The data from our latest Iraq poll suggest not.
Al Qaeda, it should be said, is overwhelmingly — almost unanimously
unpopular in Anbar, as it is in the rest of Iraq. But our enemies'
enemies are not necessarily our friends. The United States, it turns
out, is equally unpopular there.
In a survey conducted Aug. 17-24 for ABC News, the BBC and NHK, the
Japanese broadcaster, among a random national sample of 2,212 Iraqis,
72 percent in Anbar expressed no confidence whatsoever in United
States forces. Seventy-six percent said the United States should
withdraw now — up from 49 percent when we polled there in March, and
far above the national average.
Withdrawal timetable aside, every Anbar respondent in our survey
opposed the presence of American forces in Iraq — 69 percent
"strongly" so. Every Anbar respondent called attacks on coalition
forces "acceptable," far more than anywhere else in the country. All
called the United States-led invasion wrong, including 68 percent who
called it "absolutely wrong." No wonder: Anbar, in western Iraq, is
almost entirely populated by Sunni Arabs, long protected by Saddam
Hussein and dispossessed by his overthrow.
There are critical improvements in Anbar. Most important have been
remarkable advances in confidence in the Iraqi Army and police. In
ABC's survey in March, not a single respondent rated local security
positively — now 38 percent do. Nonetheless, nobody surveyed in Anbar
last month gave the United States any credit. Ratings of living
conditions remain dismal: respondents were deeply dissatisfied with
the availability of electricity and fuel, jobs, medical care and a
host of other elements of daily life. And the violence, while sharply
down, has hardly ended: One in four reported that car bombs or
suicide attacks had occurred near them in the last six months. Last
week's murder of Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, an Anbar sheik who
had allied himself with the United States, only underscored this grim
Anbar's tribal leaders may have any number of motivations for their
alliance with the United States. It's been reported that the United
States government has provided them arms, matériel and money, as well
as undertaking more than $700 million in reconstruction projects in
But it seems clear that popular sentiment in Anbar is another matter
entirely. Indeed, one other result from our poll may be of particular
interest to Anbar's tribal leaders and the United States military
alike: Just 23 percent in Anbar expressed confidence in their "local
leaders"; 77 percent had little or none. That's better than it was in
March — but still nearly the lowest level of confidence in local
leaders we measured anywhere in Iraq.
Confidence in local leaders, as it happens, is lower only in Diyala —
the other province Mr. Bush mentioned in his speech as a focal point
of progress in Iraq.
Gary Langer is the director of polling for ABC News.