President George Bush has often stressed that if America wins the hearts and minds of Iraqis, they will stop killing our troops and each other and the country will stabilize. For Bush, that means rooting out Al Qaeda, a strategy that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate dramatically showed isn’t working; the presence of the U.S. in Iraq is recruiting terrorists faster than we can kill them. Perhaps a better way to win over Iraqis would be to (gasp!) listen to what they think we should do and leave. According government and independent polls released this week, more than 70 percent of Iraqis want U.S. troops to quit Iraq within a year, arguing that a pullout would make the country more secure and decrease sectarian violence.
Bush has argued that setting a timetable for withdraw from Iraq would only embolden insurgents. The polls suggest he’s wrong. Iraqi support for attacks on U.S.-led forces has grown over the past year to a majority position—now six in ten. The independent poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that Iraqis who support the attacks also believe the U.S. plans to establish permanent military bases in their country. A majority of Iraqis said they’d be less supportive of attacks on U.S. troops, “if the U.S. made a commitment to withdraw from Iraq according to a timetable.”
Our congress is not entirely deaf to Iraqi concerns. A rider in a defense spending bill that passed the House Wednesday would ban construction in Iraq of permanent U.S. bases. But Bush needs to go much further and set a timetable for withdraw. The independent poll found that a whopping 91 percent of Iraqis, including majorities of all ethnic groups, supported a pullout of U.S. troops within two years. Making even that kind of modest commitment would go a long way towards getting Iraqis on our side.