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Should the U.S. Withdraw? Let the Iraqi People Decide
By Abigail A. Fuller and Neil Wollman
Give us three minutes and we can find an op-ed piece in a U.S. newspaper calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, or arguing that they should stay. The arguments are varied and numerous: If the U.S. leaves, anarchy will ensue. Occupation forces are a target for foreign terrorists. Bush should set a timetable for withdrawal. Setting a timetable would embolden those using violence in Iraq. And so on.
What is missing from this picture? Any discussion of what the Iraqi people themselves want. The opinions of those most affected by this war count the most. And so a nationwide referendum should be conducted in Iraq on the question of whether U.S. troops should stay or go, in which every Iraqi can vote directly on this question. What the U.S. public wants is much discussed in the media-nearly every week poll results are announced indicating how many people believe the United States should withdraw all or some troops from Iraq (63 percent, according to the latest USA Today/CNN Gallup Poll) and how many believe the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq (59 percent, from the same poll).
As U.S. citizens we certainly have an interest in whether the troops stay. Our tax money funds the U.S. military presence, and our young men and women are being killed and injured there. So our opinions matter. But what about the Iraqis? There are inherent difficulties in polling in an unstable, war-torn environment. Furthermore, most polls of Iraqi public opinion ask such ambiguous questions as, "Do you think the country is headed in the right direction?"-to which a "yes" answer could mean any number of things, from a belief that the insurgents are defeating the occupation forces and that's a good thing, to a belief that a democratic government will be established soon in part due to the U.S. presence.
Neither is it sufficient to simply allow the Iraqi government to determine whether or not U.S. troops stay: 37 percent of Iraqis, a significant minority, feel that the Iraqi National Assembly does not serve the interests of all Iraqis (International Republican Institute poll, July 2005). Some polls have asked Iraqis specifically about the presence of U.S. troops, and guess what: they want us to leave. A February poll by the U.S. military, cited by the Brookings Institution, found that 71 percent of Iraqis "oppose the presence of Coalition Forces in Iraq."
This poll was taken only in urban areas, but others have found much the same sentiment. According to a January 2005 poll by Abu Dhabi TV/Zogby International, 82 percent of Sunni Arabs and 69 percent of Shiite Arabs favor the withdrawal of U.S. troops either immediately or after an elected government is in place. But an opinion poll does not carry the weight of a referendum, in which all Iraqis could clearly and definitively vote on whether or not U.S. troops should remain in their country. This can be done: Kurdish activists organized a referendum on independence during the January national elections in Iraq, which found that over 90 percent of Kurd voters want independence for the region.
On October 15 Iraqis will vote, in another referendum, on whether to accept a new constitution. It appears that we as a nation are so self-absorbed that both the hawks and the doves among us have forgotten to ask what those most affected by the war-the Iraqi people themselves--want. Let us remedy this situation by supporting a referendum and then abiding by the results. Let the Iraqi people decide.
Abigail A. Fuller is associate professor of sociology and social work at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana. Neil Wollman is professor of psychology and senior fellow of the Peace Studies Institute at Manchester College, North Manchester, IN 46962; firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com; 260-982-5009/5346.