Most Muslims Against Iraq War, But Say U.S. Aid Needed
A vast majority of Muslims in America feel the use of force in Iraq was wrong — even more so than the general public, according to survey results — but some say a continued U.S. presence is necessary for stability.
The most recent Pew Research Center survey on the subject, published May 22, found that 75 percent of Muslim Americans said the U.S. use of military force in Iraq was wrong, compared to 47 percent of the general public.
Farid Senzai, director of research for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, helped advise Pew on its survey. He said Muslim-Americans in general saw a disconnect between the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the invasion of Iraq, even though the war on terrorism was one of the main reasons the Bush administration gave for going to war in Iraq.
Muslims recognized that al-Qaida, the self-proclaimed perpetrator of the Sept. 11 attacks, was a religious network that wouldn”t want to affiliate itself with former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was a member of the secular Baathist Party, said Senzai.
Most Muslims in America and in other parts of the world believe terrorism would be better addressed through political options rather than military might, he added.
A survey of Muslim American voters conducted last year by the Council on American-Islamic Relations also found that the majority of both Sunnis and Shias thought the war in Iraq was a bad choice for the United States, though the percentage was slightly higher among Sunnis.
Responding to the statement “the war in Iraq has been worthwhile for America,” 69 percent of Sunnis and 64 percent of Shias disagreed or disagreed strongly.
“I was against the war since day one,” said Shadi Hamid, research director for the Project on Middle East Democracy. However, he said his stance did temporarily soften during the Iraqi National Assembly elections in January 2005.
Hamid was living in Jordan at the time and saw the television images of Iraqis casting their votes for the first time, possibly risking their lives from armed groups who had threatened to attack polling stations.
“I thought to myself maybe things will work out after all,” he said. “It”s amazing how far we”ve come from that moment of hope to now.”
Hamid said under the Bush administration, with its emphasis on military force, there is little chance of success. Rather, pressure should be put on the Iraqi government to be inclusive of different factions and push for a true national reconciliation program, he said.
Conversely, the Pew survey found that about 12 percent of Muslim Americans said invading Iraq was the right thing to do, while about 45 percent of the general public agreed with the invasion.
One such supporter, Salim Mansur, associate professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, said he backed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq from the beginning for the same reasons that prompted the landslide passage of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.
That law said the United States should seek to remove Saddam from power because of his regime”s human rights violations and use of poison gas against Kurds, among other reasons, and replace him with a democratic government.
“I supported President Bush and his decision to bring about regime change. Do I still support it? My view remains yes,” Mansur said.
But he said the mood in America has changed, as evidenced by the November 2006 elections that swept Democrats to power in the House and Senate, and now many people want to bring back the troops.
However, he said any withdrawal from Iraq would be “disastrous” not only for the war, but for the war on terror and the stabilization of the Middle East.
The United States, instead, should stand by Iraq as it did Germany and Japan after World War II to help it transition from dictatorship to democracy and rebuild, according to Mansur. In those cases, as in Iraq, it will take time, maybe even a generation, he said.
“Changes don”t happen on a flip of a coin,” as evidenced by the United States” own struggle for democracy and outbreak of civil war after gaining independence, he said.
Hamid, on the other hand, said a partial troop withdrawal would help push Iraqis toward a more stable democracy, but he said a smaller force should remain to support Iraqi security forces, prevent genocide between sectarian groups and fight al-Qaida.
“We have a responsibility and moral obligation to support democracy in Iraq in the long run,” he added.
The Pew Research Center used a sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States for its survey. About 65 percent were born in other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, South Asia, Iran, Europe and Africa, and 35 percent were born in the United States.