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June 16 , 2006
CONTACT: Pam Young
734.487.4400
pamela.young@emich.edu

EMU researcher examines Iraqi views of politics, religion and the U.S.

YPSILANTI - An Eastern Michigan University professor, internationally known for his expertise on Middle East issues, has released findings from the second of two comprehensive surveys of Iraqi citizens that may help the U.S. government’s role in Iraq.

EMU sociologist Mansoor Moaddel (pronounced moe-ah-dell) of Eastern Michigan University, and Ronald Inglehart and Mark Tessler, both of the University of Michigan, recently completed the second of two surveys of Iraqi public opinion, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. Their 2004 study examined Iraqi attitudes towards religion, politics, gender and coalition forces. The most recent survey, completed in April 2006, examined the growing feelings of insecurity and xenophobia, support for secular politics and nationalism, and changes in public opinion from 2004 – 2006.

 “We found that Iraqi political values have become more secular and nationalistic, while at the same time, Iraqis expressed a higher feeling of mistrust of foreigners and insecurity now than they did when we conducted the first survey less than two years ago,” said Moaddel. “With the decline of violence and the establishment of some degree of political stability, we expect the feelings of insecurity to change. The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Iraq’s foreign terrorists, will improve morale and have a tremendous impact on the morale of terrorists and insurgents.”

The surveys used nationally representative samples of 2,325 Iraqi adults and 2,701 Iraqi adults respectively, which were carried out by Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, a survey research firm in Baghdad, Iraq.

Findings from both surveys reveal significant change among the Iraqi public:

  • Iraqis had widespread feelings of xenophobia and mistrust of foreigners in 2004 and these feeling have increased. The percentage of Iraqis who said they would not like to have Americans as neighbors went up from 87 percent in 2004 to 90 percent in 2006.

The comparable figures for the British increased from 87 percent to 90 percent; and from 84 percent to 90 percent for the French.

  • People from other Islamic countries also became increasingly unwelcome. The percentage of Iraqis who did not want to have Iranians as neighbors increased from

55 percent to 61 percent between surveys. These figures increased from 50 percent to 59 percent for Kuwaitis; from 59 percent to 71 percent for the Turks; and from 43 percent to 61 percent for Jordanians.

  • The increase in xenophobia parallels increased feelings of powerlessness, pessimism about the future and insecurity. This change varied by ethnicity, rising from 41 percent to 48 percent among Shi’is; from 77 percent to 84 percent among Sunnis; from 67 percent to 79 percent among Muslims who refused to be described as either; and from 16 percent to 50 percent among Kurds.
  • Despite increased political violence, there was no significant change in the level of inter-ethnic trust among Iraqis. While the level of trust between Shi’is and Sunnis declined, there was an increase in the level of trust between Sunnis and Kurds.
  • Among the most remarkable developments are changes in attitudes in favor of secularism and territorial nationalism. The percentage of Iraqis who said it was “very good to have an Islamic government where religious leaders have absolute power” declined from 30 percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2006.  For Shi’is, the drop was from 39 percent to 35 percent; for Sunnis, from 20 percent to 6 percent; for Muslims, from 23 percent to 10 percent; and for Kurds, from 11 percent to 5 percent. This decline parallels increased Iraqi concern about the influence of religious leaders.
  • Similarly, the percentage of Iraqis who thought it was “very important for a good government to implement only religious laws,” declined from 35 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2006. This change was not uniform across all groups. While there was an increase in support for religious laws among Shi’is, there was a considerable decrease in support for such laws among Sunnis, Muslims and Kurds.
  • Public support for democratic rule making has increased significantly, from 59 percent in 2004 to 65 percent in 2006. There was also a significant increase in support for the separation of religion and politics and the desirability of a Western political system for Iraq, especially among Sunnis, Muslims and Kurds.
  • The rise of territorial nationalism among Iraqis can be measured by the percentage of the respondents who described themselves as “Iraqis, above all,” versus “Muslims, above

all.” In 2004, 23 percent of respondents defined themselves as Iraqis. This figure rose to 28 percent in 2006. Among educated Iraqis this change was even greater, from 22 percent in 2004 to 32 percent in 2006.

  • In the Baghdad province, adherence to Iraqi identity is even more impressive, as the percentage of the public who described themselves as “Iraqis, above all,” jumped from 30 percent to 60 percent. This change is remarkable, considering the low level of support for national identity in the capitals of other Arab countries. For example, this figure in 2001 for Cairo, Egypt, was 11 percent; for Amman, Jordan, 12 percent; for Rabat, Morocco, 34 percent; and in 2003, for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 17 percent. The only comparable case is Tehran, Iran, where the percentage of Tehranis who described themselves as “Iranian, above all,” jumped from 38 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2005.

Given that the development of the modern state in the West has historically been associated with the rise of territorial nationalism and secular discourse, said Moaddel, the Iraqis’ increasing attachment to national identity and support for secular discourse may signify a change in attitude that favors the formation of a modern and democratic political order.

“Since support for secular attitudes has gained considerable ground among Sunnis, this change may make it increasingly difficult for followers of al-Qaeda to recruit among this religious sect in Iraq,” said Moaddel. “If these attitudinal changes reflect a fundamental process toward modern nation building and secularism, even while Iraqis’ mistrust of American forces in their country has reached an all-time high, they at the same time have moved toward some of the basic democratic values.”

A graduate of Shiraz University in Iran, Moaddel received a doctorate in sociology from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree from Western Michigan University.

He specializes in culture and ideology of the Middle East; Middle Eastern Politics; and the future of Islamic fundamentalism and its effects on the United States.

He is the author of numerous books, including Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2005.  He is a member of the ad hoc partnership group with the Department of Homeland Security and frequently shares his findings with state officials and the U.S. Congress.


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