Why young Iraqis do not like the United States

Sunday 24/04/2016

It is not the kind of poll results that Americans, and especially US politicians and military leaders, want to hear.
The American firm Penn Schoen Berland, sponsored by a Dubai-based affiliate of Burson Marsteller, undertook an exten­sive survey that included 3,250 interviews in 15 countries in the Arab world. Participants were aged 18-24 and 250 in-person interviews were conducted in Iraq. The survey data have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.65%.
There were positive results. The survey indicated that Arabs across the region reject the Islamic State (ISIS) and say it will fail and that governments need to do more to promote women’s rights.
However, the question “Do you consider the US a strong ally, somewhat of an ally, somewhat of an enemy or a strong enemy of your country?” produced disturb­ing results. While respondents from Gulf countries said they con­sider the United States an impor­tant ally, the results from Iraq were eye-opening.
Nearly all — 93% — of young Ira­qis surveyed said they considered the United States an enemy. Only 1% said they considered it an ally.
These are young people who grew up “free” — not under the repressive thumb of Saddam Hus­sein. They were the ones who were going to turn Iraq around and help forge a “strong bond”. Instead, a war that cost $2 trillion looks to have gained the United States al­most no goodwill among the young people of Iraq.
Then again, why would it? More than 100,000 Iraqis died directly or indirectly as a result of US inter­vention. The country is rife with corruption and violence. More than one-quarter of the population lives in poverty.
Unemployment among Iraq’s youth is more than 30%. According to a 2015 UN report: “The [Iraqi] economy is unable to produce enough jobs to employ the 450,000 Iraqis entering the labour force each year.”
So how do you start to turn around such a desperately bad situation?
The United States will have a new president next January and if he or she wants to change the minds of the 93% of Iraqi youth, a much different path must be fol­lowed.
The first thing a new president has to face is the fact that the United States’s “adventure” in Iraq has led to abysmal results. The trillions of dollars spent, the lost US and Iraqi lives, the continued backing of the wrong horse in Iraqi politics, the inability to prevent the rise of ISIS, the possible break-up of Iraq, the rising influence of Iran in the country — very, very little has worked in America’s favour.
Defeating ISIS remains, at least for the moment, the key concern. There is no reason, however, that other options cannot be explored at the same time.
It is a cliché to say it but true nonetheless: If Iraq manages to stay together after the defeat of ISIS, it needs a Marshall Plan-like solution. For instance, imagine if only a few billion of that $2 trillion had been used to educate young Iraqis. (UN figures indicate that school attendance figures take a sharp drop after primary school.)
Such a plan cannot stop with education. Educated people need jobs. The United States needs to work with top economic minds in Iraq and the region to create — not impose — an economic solution for Iraq, one that does not just depend on oil.
Before that can happen, how­ever, Iraq needs to clean up its own act. You can’t create a new econo­my with a model of governance rife with corruption and sectarianism. Shias, Sunnis and Kurds need to buy into a new economic vision together and believe that all will prosper.
Yes, it reads like a fairy tale. It is hard to talk about such an idea at this moment, let alone begin plan­ning. However, it is hard to see that there is anything to lose by trying an approach that might improve the lives of young Iraqis, not con­tinue to drive them away.