Psychology :: Iraqi attitudes continue to shift toward secular values

The political values of Iraqis are increasingly secular and nationalistic, according to a series of surveys of nationally representative samples of the population from December 2004 to March 2007.

Findings from a July 2007 survey are expected to be released before the end of the summer.

So far, the surveys show a decline in popular support for religious government in Iraq and an increase in support for secular political rule, said sociologist Mansoor Moaddel, who is affiliated with Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).

“Iraqis have a strong sense of national identity that transcends religious and political lines,” Moaddel said. “The recent out-pouring of national pride at the Asian Cup victory of the Iraqi soccer team showed that this sense of national pride remains strong, despite all the sectarian strife and violence.”

In the March 2007 survey, 54 percent of Iraqis surveyed described themselves as “Iraqis, above all,” (as opposed to “Muslims, above all” or “Arabs, above all”) compared with just 28 percent who described themselves that way in April 2006. Three-quarters of Iraqis living in Baghdad said they thought of themselves in terms of their national identity, as Iraqis above all.

“This is a much higher proportion than we found in other Middle Eastern capitals,” said Moaddel, adding that such high levels of national identity may counteract tendencies to split the nation based on sectarian differences.

The surveys conducted in December 2004 and April 2006 were supported by grants from the National Science Foundation to U-M political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Mark Tessler. Moaddel collaborated on those surveys, then added some of the same questions to an October 2006 survey of 7,730 Iraqis supervised by the Multinational Forces Assessment Effects Group. In March 2007, Moaddel collaborated with Iraqi social scientist Munqith Daghir, adding the same questions to another survey of 7,411 Iraqis. The surveys were conducted by a private Iraqi research group headed by Daghir, the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies.

The proportion of Shi’s, Sunnis and Kurds interviewed in each of the surveys was roughly representative of their presence in the population, according to Moaddel.

Overall, only 18 percent of those surveyed in October 2006 thought that having an Islamic government where religious authorities have absolute power is “very good,” compared with 26 percent surveyed in December 2004.

About a third of those surveyed in March 2007 strongly agreed that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated, compared with 24 percent in December 2004.

Additionally, Moaddel found a significant increase from April 2006 to October 2006 in the percent of Iraqis who gave six religious political parties a very unfavorable rating.

“The escalating violence in Iraq gives a bleak impression of that country’s future,” Moaddel said. “Sectarian conflict seems to be increasing on a daily basis, with militias massacring hundreds of Sunnis and Shi’is solely on the basis of their religious identities.

“Yet it would be a mistake to think that this bloodlust represents widespread sentiment among Iraqis as a whole. While neither American nor Iraqi security officials have yet found a way to tame the militias, the Iraqi public is increasingly drawn toward a vision of a democratic, non-sectarian government for the country.”

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