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Baghdad Views U.S. Troops: Protectors or Justifiable Targets?

by Richard Burkholder, International Bureau Chief

It wasn't long after Saddam Hussein's regime was ousted from Iraq that some vocal Baghdad residents began calling for the prompt withdrawal of coalition forces from the country. Shortly after television crews broadcast live images of the toppling of Hussein's statue in Baghdad's Firdos Square, the words "All Donne (sic) Go Home" were spray-painted on the statue's base.

Iraqis' desire for a prompt withdrawal of foreign troops has been tempered, however, by concern about establishing some basic level of security. The invasion ushered in a wave of violent crime that the city's badly understaffed and underarmed police force has been largely powerless to contain. According to Gallup's new landmark survey of 1,178 adult residents of Baghdad*, nearly all Baghdadis -- 94% -- think the city is now a more dangerous place for them to live since the invasion, and 60% said there have been times during the past four weeks when they or their families were afraid to go outside their homes during the day.

Given these findings, is the desire for a prompt withdrawal of foreign forces really the majority sentiment among Baghdad's citizens today? Only one in four Baghdad residents (26%) told Gallup they would prefer coalition forces to "leave immediately -- say, in the next few months." Seven in 10 (72%) said U.S. and British troops should stay in Iraq for "a longer period of time."

Furthermore, a substantial 85% of Baghdad's residents said they agree with the assertion that "some people believe if the U.S. were to pull out its troops any time soon, Iraq will fall into anarchy." Just 11% said they disagree with this assessment.

Minority of Baghdad Residents Condone Attacks on U.S. Forces

Since President Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" on May 1, nearly 100 U.S. soldiers have been killed in combat in Iraq, many of them within the Baghdad metropolitan area itself.

While opinions differ as to which specific groups are behind attacks on U.S. troops and what their motives are, a majority of Baghdad's residents -- 64% -- view them as either somewhat (22%) or completely (42%) unjustifiable.

That said, a significant minority of Baghdad's residents are unwilling to condemn attacks against U.S. troops, at least under certain circumstances. Seventeen percent said that the current attacks on U.S. forces are sometimes justified, and sometimes not justified. Of greater concern is the fact that nearly one in five Baghdadis (19%) view the ongoing attacks as either somewhat (11%) or completely (8%) justifiable.

In other words, among the 2.3 million adults (aged 18 and older) in Iraq's capital city, nearly 440,000 view attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq as justifiable.

Most Approve of Conduct by U.S. Forces in Baghdad

Since April, there have been numerous media reports documenting the accidental killing of civilians -- some of them women and children -- during operations and raids conducted by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad.

How do residents of Baghdad view the conduct of U.S. forces in their city? Despite these well-publicized incidents, nearly half (48%) said U.S. troops have thus far conducted themselves "fairly well" in Baghdad, with an additional 10% saying "very well." One in five Baghdad residents (20%) said U.S. troops have conducted themselves "fairly badly," and nearly 1 in 10 (9%) think the troops have conducted themselves "very badly."

All told, however, positive assessments of U.S. troops' conduct outnumber negative assessments by a 2-to-1 margin (58% positive, 29% negative). Of those who gave negative assessments, more than half (58%) said their opinion is based on things they have personally witnessed, while 42% said their opinions were based on things they have heard.

Few Baghdad Residents Have Had Direct Interaction With U.S. Troops

Although a sizable number of U.S. troops (more than 30,000) are based in the Baghdad region, personal contact between locals and U.S. forces remains the exception rather than the rule. Just 6% of Baghdad's residents told Gallup interviewers that they or a member of their immediate family has had face-to-face dealings with U.S. soldiers -- the coalition force that holds responsibility for patrolling the city.

Upper-income (12%) and university-educated (18%) Baghdadis were most likely to report personal contact with U.S. troops, but direct interaction has been rare even among these groups.

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