What is missing from the debate over withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq? Any discussion of what the Iraqi people themselves want.
The opinions of those most affected by the war count most. 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.
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.
A nationwide poll taken by Iraqi university researchers for the British government found that 82 percent of all Iraqis surveyed in August are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops and 67 percent feel less secure because of the occupation, the Sunday Telegraph of London reported last month.
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 more than 90 percent of Kurdish voters want independence for the region.
On Oct. 15, Iraqis voted in another referendum, 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, desire. 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 Indiana. Neil Wollman is professor of psychology and senior fellow of the Peace Studies Institute at Manchester. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle