Gallup Poll of Iraq: “Full Sovereignty,” Limited Powers?

by Richard Burkholder, International Bureau Chief

On June 1, the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) dissolved itself out of existence. 

It did so to make way for a post-June 30 caretaker government, whose senior leaders were announced following a lengthy and heated debate, both within the IGC and with representatives of the U.S.-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The government that will assume sovereignty will be headed by a prime minister (Iyad Allawi), a president (Ghazi Yawar), and two vice presidents (Ibrahim Jafari and Rowsch Shaways). All but Shaways were members of the Iraqi Governing Council itself.

The powers of this new interim government will be limited and largely administrative. It may not alter or amend the country's interim constitution or the Transitional Administrative Law, and it will have minimal legislative authority. According to a White House fact sheet on the transition: "The Iraqi Interim Government's primary responsibilities will be to run the day-to-day operations of Iraq's government and ministries, increase security, and prepare the country for national elections."

Some have described the notion of returning Iraq to "full sovereignty" as illusory, given that the government will have such carefully limited powers. A U.N. diplomat was quoted by The New York Times as saying, "It's a charade. The problem is that you need a charade to get to the reality of an elected government next January."

Majority of Iraqis Support Caretaker Government Over IGC

How do Iraqis themselves view the notion of a caretaker government with limited powers? Given that it, too, is simply an appointed body, is it better that its powers be constrained until such time as a body elected by the Iraqi people assumes power?  

In its recent nationwide survey of 3,444 Iraqi adults, Gallup asked:

"Since elections will not be held and there will be no Transitional National Assembly in place by June 30 th, to which of the following would you prefer the CPA transfer sovereignty until elections for that Assembly are held -- the current 25 member Iraqi Governing Council, an expanded 50 member Iraqi Governing Council, whose additional members would be selected jointly by the current IGC and the CPA, or a caretaker Iraqi government with limited powers, whose main responsibility would be to arrange and conduct elections?"

By a wide margin, Iraqis told Gallup they would prefer the installation of a caretaker government with limited powers (58%) to a handover of power to either the existing IGC (11%) or an IGC with expanded membership (9%). The latter two choices had also been suggested as possible options in the absence of a popular vote. However the option that U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi eventually proposed -- a caretaker government charged with preparing general elections -- is the clear preference among Iraqis.

Do Iraqis See the Handover of Sovereignty as "Superficial"?

Last November, the CPA and the IGC reached an agreement to transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30. In the survey, Gallup asked Iraqis about possible reasons why the United States is willing to hand over power. Nearly a third of Iraqis (31%) think the United States agreed to a June 30 transfer of sovereignty because both the American and Iraqi sides of the relationship wanted political power to be transferred. Nearly as many (26%) think the key pressure came from representatives on the Iraqi side. Thirteen percent feel the initiative came from a genuine U.S. desire to transfer political power, while 17% feel insurgent attacks on U.S. forces was the motivation for last November's agreement.

However, the single most commonly expressed explanation -- endorsed by 40% of those interviewed -- was the skeptical assertion that the United States agreed to the transfer because it will be "largely superficial and will not reduce U.S. influence in Iraq." While it is worth noting that most Iraqis nationwide do not express this opinion, it is voiced with somewhat greater frequency among Baghdad residents (50%), as well as those with greater education (48% of Iraqis with secondary degrees, 54% of those with university degrees or higher).

Iraqi Governing Council Gets Mixed, but Declining, Marks for Its Performance

One reason that Iraqis favor the interim caretaker government option may be that the outgoing IGC evokes only a slightly positive performance rating. Roughly a third (35%) of Iraqis rate the IGC's job performance as "very" (3%) or "somewhat" (32%) good -- a higher proportion than give it either a somewhat (12%) or very (12%) bad job performance assessment.  

Outside of the Kurdish north, however, unfavorable ratings of the IGC (25%) are virtually as common as favorable ratings (27%). Sentiment is particularly harsh in Baghdad, where those taking a negative view of the IGC's performance now outnumber those giving it positive marks by a 3-to-1 margin. Roughly a third of Baghdad citizens give the IGC a very (20%) or somewhat (13%) bad rating, while just 11% of Baghdadis give it either a somewhat (10%) or very (1%) good rating. This constitutes a dramatic reversal from Baghdadi sentiments expressed in Gallup's first Poll of Baghdad late last summer, when positive assessments of the IGC's performance outnumbered negative ones by a 3-to-1 margin: 40% either very (8%) or somewhat (32%) good; 13% either somewhat (6%) or very (7%) bad.

As reported earlier (see "Iraqis Consider Their Nation's Future" in Related Items), an important source of dissatisfaction with the IGC has been frustration with its lack of independent authority. Only a small proportion of those Gallup interviewed believe the IGC is "generally independent" (11%), while the vast majority believe "its policies and decisions (are) mostly determined by the coalition's own authorities" (79%). 

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