Obama: Listen to Iraqi Opinion

discussing his plans for the Iraq War during the presidential campaign,
one group that Barack Obama seldom, if ever, mentioned as supporting
his proposed policy was the Iraqi people.

Obama's campaign website, which differs only slightly from his transition website, lays out very clearly what he sees as problematic with the Iraq War. It highlights U.S. casualties - without mentioning the hundreds of thousands (some studies estimate over one million)
of Iraqi civilians who have died as a result of the invasion and
occupation - and the exorbitant financial cost of the war, while
arguing from a strategic perspective that the diversion of troops and
resources to Iraq "continues to set back our ability to finish the
fight in Afghanistan."

Not only is Iraqi opinion completely ignored, but Obama's website
actually blames the victim - a popular line with both Democrats and
Republicans - by stating that "the Iraqi government has not stepped
forward to lead the Iraqi people." How Iraqis are supposed to take
control of their destiny with 146,000 U.S. troops - and an even larger number of U.S. contractors - in their country is apparently not a relevant question.

Failure to mention Iraqi opinion during the campaign, however,
wasn't due to a lack of knowledge about what they think. In fact, since
the war began, the Iraqis have been extensively polled
and the results are telling. Below is a sampling of these poll results,
each compared with the president-elect's proposed policy for the Iraq

1) A March 2008 poll
by Opinion Business Research found that 70% of Iraqis wanted foreign
troops to leave. Of that group, 65% said they wanted the troops to
leave "immediately or as soon as possible," and another 13% responded
"within six months."
Such sentiment has remained fairly
consistent since shortly after the U.S. invasion. In April 2004, for
example, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 57% of Iraqis wanted the U.S. and British forces to "leave immediately."

Obama has repeatedly pledged to "responsibly end the war in Iraq,"
convincing many of his supporters who didn't dig beneath the campaign
rhetoric that he was the "peace candidate." Obama's plan from the
beginning, however, has consisted of withdrawing only the "combat
brigades" over a 16-month period and leaving behind a "residual force
in Iraq [that] would perform limited missions: going after any remnants
of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so
long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security

While Obama hasn't estimated how large this force might be, his advisors have told the press
that up to 50,000 troops could stay behind. A higher estimate came last
April from the coordinator of Obama's working group on Iraq, who suggested
in a policy paper for the Center for a New American Security that
"perhaps 60,000 - 80,000 forces" should remain in Iraq after the
withdrawal of combat troops. To what extent Iraqis would consider
cutting the number of foreign troops in their country by half, or even
by two-thirds, an end to the occupation is questionable, to say the

One recent development that could affect Obama's plan was the
signing of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the U.S. and Iraq
in November. This landmark pact
stipulates that the United States must withdraw all of its combat
forces from Iraqi cities and villages by the end of June this year, and
that all of its forces must leave the country by the end of 2011. In
addition, the SOFA stipulates
that the United States must get approval from Iraqi courts for house
raids and consult with the Iraqis on every other military operation,
strips legal immunity from all U.S. contractors, and returns control of
Iraqi airspace and the Green Zone to the Iraqi government. Another
provision requires a public referendum in July 2009 on the agreement,
which the Iraqi people think gives the US too long to leave, according
to polls.

Obama appears to support the SOFA but he has not publicly addressed
the discrepancies between the agreement and his plan for Iraq - namely,
his insistence on a residual force indefinitely into the future.
Moreover, he is receiving considerable pressure
from his military advisors and commanders in the field to not hold firm
to his 16-month timetable or to the terms of the SOFA.

2) According to a March 2008 poll,
conducted by D3 Systems and KA Research for ABC News, the BBC, ARD
German TV and the Japanese broadcaster NHK, only 27% of Iraqis said the
U.S. military presence was making overall security better in their
country. If U.S. forces were to leave the country entirely, 46% of
those polled said the security situation would improve, while 29% said
it would worsen and 23% believed it would remain the same.

The fact that the vast majority of Iraqis, who should understand
their day-to-day security situation better than anyone, believe that
U.S. forces are more a cause of the violence in their country than the
solution, and feel that they would be safer (or at least as safe as
they are now) after we leave, renders one of the only arguments still
made by proponents of the war for our continued occupation - that we
are protecting the population and thwarting a wider civil war -
effectively moot. By ignoring this polling data, Obama misses an
important opportunity to bolster the argument for withdrawal against
those who claim that the U.S. should stay in Iraq on humanitarian

3) In the March 2008 poll
for ABC News cited above, when Iraqis were asked about the security
situation in the country as a whole over the last six months, 36% said
that it had improved, 26% thought that it had worsened, and 37% said
that it had stayed about the same. Within the group that thought that
security had improved, 57% said either the Iraqi government, army, or
police deserved the most credit for the improvement, while only 4% said
U.S. forces.

Looked at another way, less than 1.5% of Iraqis credit the increased
number of U.S. troops in their country with an improvement in security.
Such results must be almost unintelligible to anyone who has relied on
the glowing portrayal of the so-called "surge" in Iraq by the
government and the mainstream media. To his credit, Obama originally
spoke out against the surge and remained critical throughout 2007. But
as the dominant narrative emerged that the influx of occupation forces
were responsible for a drop in violence in Iraq, Obama changed his tune. "It's succeeded beyond our wildest dreams," Obama told Bill O'Reilly in early September, referring to the surge.

While Obama's campaign website
does mention "the decision of many Sunnis to turn against al-Qaeda in
Iraq, and a lull in Shia militia activity," as factors that have
influenced the recent reduction of civilian casualties in Iraq, he
primarily thanks the troops for this achievement. "This is a testament
to our military's hard work, improved counterinsurgency tactics, and
enormous sacrifice by our troops and military families."

4) In the same poll, when asked about how they would like their
territory to be structured politically, 66% of the Iraqis said they
wanted to have "one unified Iraq with [a] central government in
Baghdad," 23% preferred "a group of regional states with their own
regional government and a federal government in Baghdad," and only 9%
said they wanted to divide "the country into separate independent

Vice President-elect Joe Biden's plan - which he apparently still supports - to divide Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines made him a very unpopular choice for vice president with Iraqis. In an op-ed for the New York Times
in 2006, he and Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations argued
that Iraq should "establish three largely autonomous regions with a
viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite
regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws,
administration and internal security. The central government would
control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues." The Senate
then passed a non-binding resolution endorsing Biden's plan in the fall of 2007.

Obama didn't vote on the measure; however, he never denounced the
plan as being at odds with Iraqi opinion. To what extent Biden's
position on this issue will influence Obama is not known, but the
transition website does mention that the new administration will encourage the Iraqis to compromise on "federalism," which isn't elaborated on.

5) An August 2007 poll
conducted by KA Research found that 63% of Iraqis preferred that their
country's oil reserves "be developed and produced by Iraqi state-owned
companies," including a majority from every geographical, ethnic, and
sectarian group.

At the beginning of 2007, President Bush made the passage of an "oil
law" one of his 18 "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government. Despite being
regularly described as an agreement to ensure the equitable
distribution of oil revenues, the legislation would effectively privatize the vast majority of Iraqi's oil reserves. Four months later, the Democratic-led Congress endorsed
these benchmarks - and upped the ante - by including language in the
$100 billion war supplemental that threatened to cut off funding for
Iraq's reconstruction should these goals not be met, including the
passage of the oil law.

While this was the only war-funding bill that Obama voted against
during his tenure in the Senate, he always supported the benchmarks as
the correct guideposts to measure the Iraqi government's political
progress. For example, one of the key components of Obama's Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007
was the enforcement of benchmarks "based on President Bush's own
statements and Administration documents," that included the passing of
oil legislation. Today, this goal still remains on Obama's agenda.
According to his transition website, he'll work to forge a compromise
with the Iraqi government on "oil revenue sharing," without explaining
that such language has generally been code for privatization.

As Senator, Vice President-elect Biden also promoted
the passage of oil revenue sharing legislation by the Iraqi parliament,
but he's made far more of an effort to guard against the widely held
impression in Iraq that oil is the motive for the war. On several
occasions he has introduced amendments to - or publicly supported
the inclusion of language in - legislation that prohibits funds from
being used "to exercise United States control over any oil resources of

It would not be hard for the incoming administration to assuage the
Iraqis' fear that the U.S. will not leave until it has opened up their
country's vast oil reserves to foreign corporations. With his new bully
pulpit, Obama could easily go further than Biden and explicitly ask for
new legislation that pushes privatization of Iraq's oil off the table.
Whether Obama is listening to the Iraqi people, however, is the

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