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  What Iraqis think about war and political change

Amman/Brussels, 4 December 2002: The International Crisis Group (ICG) today publishes Voices from the Iraqi Street, based on dozens of interviews in September and October with Iraqis in Baghdad, Mosul and Najaf of different ages, backgrounds and religious groups.

ICG found virtually all those with whom we spoke far more willing than expected, and far more than those similarly interviewed in previous years, to talk candidly about their attitudes towards the regime, the opposition and a possible U.S.-led war. The briefing suggests that this alone is a strong indication of the regime’s diminished ability to instil fear and of the feelings shared by many Iraqis that some kind of political change is now unavoidable.

The most notable conclusions to be drawn from ICG’s interviews are:

  • For many Iraqis a U.S.-led strike now appears inevitable.

  • There is some concern about the potential for violence, anarchy and score-settling that might accompany forceful regime change, but the overwhelming sentiment is one of frustration and impatience with the status quo and desire for "normalcy". A significant number of those interviewed expressed the view that, if such a change required an American-led attack, they would support it.

  • Thoughts about a post-Saddam Iraq remain extremely vague and inarticulate. The opposition in exile is viewed with considerable suspicion and, in some instances, fear. Instead, many Iraqis appear to place their hope in a long-term U.S. involvement.

ICG President Gareth Evans said: "Necessarily limited as our survey was, it was striking and unexpected to find how much willingness there is to embrace a U.S.-led war as a scenario for change. But that doesn't in itself mean that war is either advisable or inevitable. Not only does the "further material breach" criterion have to be established, but the Security Council has to weigh the benefits of military intervention against its costs in terms of loss of life, material and economic damage, regional spillover effects, and possibly distracting from and complicating the war on terrorism”.

The briefing also notes that it should not be assumed that such support as may exist for a U.S. operation is unconditional. Should any war be bloody and protracted, or not followed by a major international reconstruction effort, that support may not be very long sustained.

ICG's briefing concludes that while for the international community, the question is whether or not war should be waged, for ordinary Iraqis the issue appears differently. Having lived since 1980 through a devastating conflict with Iran, Desert Storm, a decade of sanctions, international isolation and periodic U.S. and British air attacks, the question for those we interviewed is not whether a war will take place, but whether a state of war will be ended.

ICG Middle East Program Director Robert Malley said: "What emerges starkly in this briefing paper is a picture of a population worn down by what it has been forced to endure and eager for a change. For them, the status quo – harsh economic sanctions and domestic repression – is not sustainable. This is a message that ought to be heeded, regardless of whether the UN inspections succeed and regardless of whether a U.S.-led war is the final outcome".

Katy Cronin (London) +
email: [email protected]

Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
This report and all ICG reports are available on our website: www.crisisweb.org


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