Freelance reporter Michael J. Totten offers an additional caution regarding Middle East opinion polls:
Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.
This feels right to me, not only thanks to my experience in Iraq, but also in places like totalitarian Libya where no one dared criticize the regime in public, and where everyone I spoke to did so in private where they were safe. Saddam Hussein commanded a murder and intimidation regime in Iraq, and today’s insurgents wage a murder and intimidation campaign in the streets. In Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi civilians were murdered just for waving hello to Americans, and for accepting bags of rice as charity. Fear should not be ignored when gauging Iraqi public opinion, and that includes fear of American guns as well as fear of insurgents.
I'll add my own two cents. Poll questions are often worthless because of their ambiguity. I'm not convinced that the problem disappears in Arabic.
32. As you may know, British forces have mainly left Basra province in recentWe don't care if you've never ever been near Basra. We want your opinion anyway.
months. Since the British left, do you think the security in Basra has become
better, become worse, or remained the same?