Many Iraqi voters want Americans to go home

BAGHDAD — Anti-Western feeling is running high ahead of Iraq’s election this month and many voters think sending US troops home should be the priority of the next government, an informal survey by Reuters indicated.

Campaigning for the December 15 parliamentary election has not focused much on the US-led occupation, but one finding of a survey of dozens of voters by Reuters was the desire for foreign troops to leave the country.

In the campaign, it has been some Sunni Arab minority parties who, in common with rebel groups from the once-dominant Sunni community, have made foreign troop withdrawal a prime demand.

Other politicians, however, know they need US soldiers to stop the Sunni-led insurgency tipping Iraq into civil war, but many of their constituents think the troops make matters worse.

“The occupation forces should withdraw so that we can feel secure. Every day I feel panic when I go to college due to blasts and random shootings,” said Israa Mohammad, a 22-year-old student interviewed on the campus of Baghdad University.

That view was reflected in the survey of voters in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Basra, Hilla and Najaf in which more people chose the withdrawal of foreign troops as the priority for next year than chose a more general wish for security.

Animosity towards US, British and other coalition soldiers, whom many Iraqis have come to see as contributing to rather than halting violence, underscores Washington’s failure to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis 30 months after invading.

It also chimes with growing unpopularity over the war back in the United States.

“When Iraq was occupied by US forces, they promised to spread democracy. But what had happened is the opposite, democracy produced slaughter, killing and kidnapping,” said Mohammed Sulabi, who was also interviewed in Baghdad.

In the Reuters survey, 59 of the 131 people who indicated a preference said that the withdrawal of foreign troops was the most pressing priority for the next government.

These included respondents from Hilla and Najaf, which are mainly Shiite towns supportive of the present, Shiite-led government. In Basra, Iraq’s Shiite second city, occupied by British troops, security in general was the overriding concern and there was no clear preference for foreign troops to go home.

Voters were asked to choose one of five main options as the priority for the next government: withdrawal of foreign troops, general security, jobs, electricity and water services and human rights.

In addition to the 59 who placed troop withdrawal top, 49 named security, 11 human rights and seven said jobs. Five offered other suggestions not on the main list.

Some formal opinion polls have been conducted in Iraq since the April 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. But most are sponsored by official bodies and have either skirted the topic of the occupation, or kept them private.

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