On Thursday, ABC News reported a stunning State Department poll, taken in October and November 2015, that revealed 40 percent of Iraqis believe the United States is deliberately trying to “destabilize Iraq and control its natural resources,” while up to one-third of the country believes the U.S. “supports terrorism in general, or ISIS specifically.”
One of the goals of the State Department survey was to determine “how well the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was implementing the sixth of nine directives from the Obama White House’s strategy to counter ISIS, namely, ‘Exposing [ISIS’s] True Nature.'”
The State Department concluded Iraqis are “keenly aware of the Islamic State’s true nature,” and nearly all have “unfavorable views of ISIS and oppose its goals and tactics, with no significant variation across religious sects and ethnic groups.”
Iraqi’s opinion of the United States is not much better, however, and it has been plunging in recent months, with America’s favorable rating falling from 38 percent to 18 percent between December 2014 and August 2015. The State Department report says that half of Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia Muslims alike, are now “completely opposed” to the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.
The report blames these low approval ratings on anti-American conspiracy theories popular in Iraq, some of which have a secular dimension: the Shiites think American support for the out-of-power Sunni populace in Iraq is tantamount to support for Sunni ISIS, while others think America created ISIS as a pretext for keeping its forces in Iraq.
Apparently those conspiracy theorists were not impressed by President Obama ostentatiously pulling American troops out of Iraq, paving the way for the Islamic State to roll in from Syria, and they have not heard his constant insistence that ISIS has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any strain of Islam. It is strange that so many Muslims in Iraq seem to think Islam is highly pertinent to the Islamic State crisis.
Another sectarian aspect of the situation was observed by Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren, who blamed “Iranian-backed Shiite militias” for “pushing this line of propaganda.”
As Washington Institute researcher Phillip Smyth elaborated, Iran has been working for over a decade to push conspiracy theories that “the U.S. is behind the growth of extremist Sunni jihadis that go out and kill other Muslims.”
Small wonder that an administration religiously devoted to the talking point that religion has nothing to do with terrorism was completely blindsided by all of this.
The State Department tried to put a positive spin on its findings by noting the survey data predates a recent string of ISIS defeats in Iraq, especially the liberation of Ramadi, so hopefully those conspiracy theories will become a little less popular.
The ABC report cites Iraqis making precisely this argument and notes Iran’s pot-stirrers get a lot of mileage from reports of errant American supply drops landing in the hands of Islamic State militants.
Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, complained that “when some Americans publicly mock Iraqi troops, question their will to fight, and use derogatory terms like ‘Shia militia’ to describe volunteer fighters, it only fuels the perception that the U.S. is not on their side.”
The ABC report includes several laments about the ingratitude of the Iraqi people, after the vast amount of blood and treasure the United States has invested in their country. Such complaints were heard during the Bush administration, too.
Also, only a Western bureaucrat would try to argue with public disapproval by citing the amount of money spent on a project. The price tag does not matter when the results are so manifestly disastrous that wild conspiracy theories sound plausible to the Iraq people, even though they are among the primary victims of the rolling horror we are trying to help them fight.