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-Americanism?
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 reality.
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 the province.
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.