Iraq: Fight for “hearts and minds” lost

BAGHDAD – Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, according to a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers and released by The Sunday Telegraph in Britain.

The poll, commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense, shows that up to 65 percent of Iraqi citizens support attacks and less than 1 percent think allied military involvement is helping to improve security. It demonstrates for the first time the depth of anti-Western feeling in Iraq, more than two and a half years after the war commenced.

The nationwide survey also suggests that the coalition has lost the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, which both Pres. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair consider fundamental to creating a safe and secure country.

The discouraging news follows the resignation last week of British Army Lt. Col. Nick Henderson, who was in charge of security in Basra, and voiced concerns over a lack of armored vehicles for his men.

The poll appears to contradict recent claims made by Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, chief of Britain‘s general staff, who congratulated soldiers for "supporting the Iraqi people in building a new and better Iraq."

According to Andrew Robathan, the Tory party’s shadow defense minister, the results indicate a complete failure of government policy. “The coalition is now part of the problem and not the solution,” he said. “I am not advocating a pullout, but if British soldiers are putting their lives on the line for a cause which is not supported by the Iraqi people then we have to ask the question, ‘what are we doing there?’ “

The Sunday Telegraph disclosed last month that a plan for early withdrawal of British troops was shelved due to the chaotic security situation. That provoked comments by dissenting officials about Iraq becoming "Britain‘s own Vietnam."

The poll also revealed that 45 percent of Iraqis believed attacks against British and U.S. troops were justified, rising to 65 percent in the British-controlled Maysan province. Overall, 82 percent were "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops; 67 percent felt less secure because of the occupation, and 43 percent believed conditions for peace and stability had worsened.

The poll, conducted in August, also debunked claims by both the U.S. and British governments that the general well being of the average Iraqi is improving. For security reasons, the Iraqi university research team that conducted the survey wasn’t told the data would be used by coalition forces.