Protests and Public Opinion in Iraq

On Sunday, the New York Times and Washington Post labeled protests against a possible U.S./Iraqi security agreement as primarly the work of followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; the Post‘s headline was “Sadr Loyalists Protest Proposed U.S. Presence,” while the Times was somewhat muddled, leading with language about the marchers being Sadr followers, but also noting that “there were signs on Saturday that Iraqi unease with the security negotiations extends beyond Mr. Sadrâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s faction.”

On the core question of whether or not Iraqis want U.S. troops out of their country– the main point, it would seem, of the rally itself– the Times reports:

Iraqis frequently express mixed emotions, torn between a genuine loathing of being occupied by American troops who have often seemed oblivious to Iraqis’ feelings and a recognition of the country’s vulnerabilities.

That difficulty was summed up by an Iraqi soldier on patrol at the Sadr demonstration Saturday. The soldier, Sgt. Ali Bandar Gomer al-Qaisi, 23, said with a shy smile, “If only they would leave before tomorrow.”

But then he added softly, as he adjusted the Iraqi flag that he had thrown around his shoulders to show his sympathy with the marchers, many of whom wore similarly tied flags. “They have to stay until 2012 according to the capability of the Iraqi Army.”

It’s unclear why an Iraqi soldier’s comments might be considered representative of what Iraqis are thinking–especially considering the problems a soldier might face in calling for U.S. troops to leave his country. More to the point is whether the Times is right about Iraqis’ conflicted stance on U.S. withdrawal. U.S. media outlets–especially, it would seem, the New York Times— have long made this argument, despite the fact that actual polls of Iraqis show they overwhelmingly want U.S. forces out.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.