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How Do Kuwaitis View Coalition's Invasion of Iraq?

by Richard Burkholder
Director, International Public Opinion Research

Despite 1990 occupation, most see ousting of Saddam by Western forces as morally unjustifiable


PRINCETON, NJ -- In the early morning hours of Aug. 2, 1990, hundreds of Iraqi tanks and tens of thousands of Iraqi troops began a full-fledged assault on Kuwait. Within hours, the bulk of Kuwait's leaders and royal family had fled the country and elite Republican Guard units were in control of Kuwait City itself. The country then endured nearly seven months of harsh occupation before Coalition forces finally liberated it in late February of 1991. Prior to their ousting, Iraqi forces set fire to Kuwait's oilfields causing massive financial loss and widespread environmental damage. 

Kuwaitis thus have a profound interest in what now transpires in the "new" Iraq. Do they view the Coalition invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein's government as justified? How do they assess the subsequent effects thus far in Iraq? Do they believe Iraqis themselves will be better off five years from now than they were before Saddam's ouster? 

Gallup's latest polling in Kuwait provides the answers -- and perhaps one significant surprise. Though the vast majority of Kuwaitis undoubtedly despised Saddam's regime, 53% say they view the invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces as not morally justifiable, while only a third (33%) disagree with this assessment. On this point, there is little difference between Kuwait's citizenry and its expatriate population -- majorities of both groups (55% and 51%, respectively) say they view the Coalition invasion as morally unjustifiable.

At the root of this sentiment is a deep aversion to Western military action against fellow Muslims -- a norm that Kuwaitis share with others in the region who experienced a lengthy colonial past. Earlier evidence of this aversion can be found in Gallup's post-9/11 polling. When interviewed in late 2001, 60% of Kuwait's citizens described the ongoing U.S. military action in Afghanistan as unjustifiable -- as did 79% of Kuwait's expatriate residents. A striking result of the 2001 polling in Kuwait was the finding that those condemning the U.S. military response actually outnumbered those who felt the 9/11 attacks themselves were morally unjustifiable (Kuwaiti citizens at 31%, expats at 44%). However, condemnation of the 9/11 attacks has since increased dramatically among both groups (to 72% and 63%, respectively). 

How do Kuwaitis assess current developments in Iraq? Regardless of their citizenship status, Kuwait's residents believe that Iraq is currently in worse shape than it was prior to the 2003 Coalition invasion. More specifically, roughly two-thirds of both Kuwait's citizenry (66%) and its Arab expat population (73%) say they believe the Coalition invasion of Iraq has thus far done that country "more harm than good," while only about 1 in 10 thinks the opposite is the case (citizens at 10%, expats at 8%). 

These two communities diverge sharply, however, in their appraisals of what the future is likely to hold for Iraq. Among Kuwaiti citizens, a majority (52%) believes Iraq will be "at least somewhat better off" in five years than it was before the U.S. and British invasion, and fully 41% of Kuwaiti nationals go so far as to say they believe Iraq will be "much better off." Kuwait's expatriate residents take a far darker view: Only about one in four expats (23%) predicts Iraq will better off five years from now than before the invasion, while twice as many (46%) think it will be in worse shape.        

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted during June-August 2006 with a randomly selected sample of 1,000 Kuwaiti residents, including citizens and expatriates living permanently in Kuwait, aged 15 and older. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the subsample of 503 Kuwaiti nationals only, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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