A comprehensive poll of thousands of Iraqi people commissioned by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority is terribly discouraging. The results weren't supposed to be made public - and it's easy to understand why - but the Associated Press got hold of the survey, and it is devastating.
Only 10 percent of Iraqis support the presence of the coalition; 92 percent believe the troops are an occupying force; only 2 percent see them as liberators; 55 percent believe the country would be safer if the coalition left; about half believe all Americans behave like the guards that mistreated Abu Ghraib prisoners; 84 percent approve of the insurgent cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is leading the fight against coalition forces; and 64 percent say al-Sadr has helped unite the country.
The poll results conflict with the upbeat assessments of the Bush administration. Just last week the president predicted future generations of Iraqis will thank Americans for standing strong against the violence of the few.
Maybe so, but this generation of Iraqis blames the violence more on the coalition than on the terrorists who are committing the violence. The Iraqis apparently believe that if the "occupiers" leave, then somehow peace and tranquility will magically envelop the land. We'll never understand the mind-set of a people who blame mass murders and mayhem, not on the terrorists who commit them, but on the peacekeepers who are there trying to prevent it.
The poll demonstrates the importance of transferring control of Iraq to the interim government at the end of the month, because 63 percent believe conditions will improve for them after the nation regains its sovereignty; 62 percent are persuaded that the Iraqi army and police force will be able to maintain security.
This is where they're seriously engaged in wishful thinking. Many security forces have fled the scene of terrorist violence and some have actually deserted to the terrorists. Will such "security forces" be more loyal to the new government than they were to the coalition-appointed Governing Council?
Terrorists' No. 1 priority now is to see that the new government fails. It takes extraordinarily brave people to serve in that government. Its leaders are marked for death; indeed, several already have been assassinated.
The new government, which Iraqis claim they support, will not be able to survive without the help of the coalition. When that becomes clear, will Iraqis still support the government? Or will they see it as a lackey of the coalition, and turn against it? The success or failure of the entire Iraqi mission will turn on the answer to that question.
The one piece of good news for the soon-to-be Iraqi government - and Bush administration - is that the world's largest Islamic group, the Islamic Conference comprised of 57 nations, has not only endorsed the new government but has vowed to "actively assist" it in taking and keeping power. This stamp of legitimacy marks a sharp, constructive shift for Muslim nations that shunned the U.S.-backed council.