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Poll of Baghdad: Should Iraq's Reconstruction Be an International Effort?

by Richard Burkholder, International Bureau Chief

On Aug. 19, days before Gallup began interviewing for a landmark survey of Baghdad residents, a massive truck bomb exploded at the U.N. headquarters there. The explosion killed nearly two-dozen international and Iraqi staffers, including the United Nations' special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Soon afterward, the United Nations sharply reduced its presence in Iraq, while major international aid agencies (such as Oxfam, Save the Children, and the International Committee of the Red Cross) did the same.

Despite the security-driven staff reductions, vigorous debate continued within the United Nations on several key issues. To what extent -- and under what conditions -- should the effort to rebuild Iraq involve nations other than the United States and Great Britain? Who should fund and administer this effort? Should the United Nations itself play a role?

Views of the United Nations and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan

Although more than a decade of severe economic sanctions were imposed under its auspices, Baghdad residents are considerably more likely to view the United Nations favorably (50%) than unfavorably (20%). In fact, of the seven U.N. member states rated, only Japan (60%), France (55%), and Germany (53%) -- the latter two both outspoken opponents of the coalition invasion -- are more likely than the United Nations to be viewed favorably.

Views of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan are more mixed, with 39% of Baghdadis expressing a favorable opinion and 28% an unfavorable one. In terms of net favorability (+13%), Annan is well ahead of both British Prime Minister Tony Blair (-27%) and President George Bush (-21%), but behind French President Jacques Chirac (+22%) and Coalition Provisional Authority chief administrator Paul Bremer (+24%).

Who Should Pay?

"You break it, you own it" is a principle that New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, a supporter of the military action to oust Saddam Hussein, was fond of reminding fellow proponents prior to the March 2003 invasion. Last month, Bush requested congressional approval for $87 billion in U.S. spending for Iraqi operations in the coming year, $20 billion of which would be earmarked specifically for reconstruction (as opposed to military) expenditures.

While one can debate the extent to which the invasion itself -- as opposed to the Hussein regime -- "broke" Iraq's infrastructure, residents of Baghdad appear to agree that the United States and Great Britain now "own" the primary responsibility for funding and overseeing the country's revival. Asked about the extent to which they think the United States and Britain "should offer payments and be involved in the reconstruction efforts," nearly three in five Baghdadis (58%) said "a great deal," and 29% said "a fair amount." Just 1 in 10 said either "not very much" (4%) or "not at all" (6%).

A conference will take place in Madrid this week to solicit broader international financial support for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, which the World Bank has estimated will cost $55 billion. To date, however, the international response has been minimal. The European Commission has proposed a pledge of just 200 million euros ($233 million in U.S. dollars), and Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Great Britain would provide £550 million ($920 million in U.S. dollars) over the next three years. Spain has pledged 90 million euros ($105 million in U.S. dollars), and Japan has pledged $1.5 billion over the next year.

Friedman recently described the attitude of many nations who opposed military action without Security Council authorization -- most prominently, France and Germany -- as: "You break it alone, you own it alone." Baghdadis, however, appear to disagree with this approach. Eighty-three percent said they "strongly" (55%) or "mostly" (28%) favor "internationalizing the reconstruction effort, by having nations in addition to the U.S. and Britain help in the reconstruction of Iraq." Only 13% said they are either "somewhat" (6%) or "strongly" (7%) opposed to broader international participation in the reconstruction effort.

An International Peacekeeping Police Force?

Aside from the daunting challenge of reconstructing Iraq's economy and physical infrastructure, the United States is also seeking additional "boots on the ground" to take some pressure off the nearly 150,000 troops already stationed in Iraq. Earlier this month, Turkey approved, in principle, the Bush administration's request for as many as 10,000 Turkish peacekeeping troops to assist in security operations in Iraq. However, this proposal drew immediate opposition from several members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Regardless of their attitude toward the presence of foreign troops -- particularly those from adjoining countries -- security remains a critical concern to Iraqis. As reported earlier, 94% of Baghdadis said the city is a more dangerous place to live in now than it was before the invasion, and nearly as many (85%) think the country "will fall into anarchy" if the United States withdraws its forces "any time soon."

Gallup's survey sought Baghdad residents' reactions to the possibility of internationalizing the security effort -- not via troop commitments from specific nations (which would presumably remain under coalition command), but through the formation and introduction of "an international peacekeeping police force."

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the capital city's adults favor the idea of installing an international peacekeeping force in Iraq, while just 32% are opposed to this suggestion. Thus, it appears that any misgivings over the presence of foreigners are tempered, at least in the near term, by concern for establishing security and maintaining civil order. For the near future, residents of Baghdad appear to want more, not less, outside assistance in constraining such dangers.

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