An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and nearly one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows.
The poll, conducted in conjunction with Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies, showed that 29% of the respondents, serving in various branches of the armed forces, said the U.S. should leave Iraq “immediately,” while another 22% said they should leave in the next six months. Another 21% said troops should be out between six and 12 months, while 23% said they should stay “as long as they are needed.”
Different branches had quite different sentiments on the question, the poll shows. While 89% of reserves and 82% of those in the National Guard said the U.S. should leave Iraq within a year, 58% of Marines think so. Seven in ten of those in the regular Army thought the U.S. should leave Iraq in the next year. Moreover, about three-quarters of those in National Guard and Reserve units favor withdrawal within six months, just 15% of Marines felt that way. About half of those in the regular Army favored withdrawal from Iraq in the next six months.
The troops have drawn different conclusions about fellow citizens back home. Asked why they think some Americans favor rapid U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, 37% of troops serving there said those Americans are unpatriotic, while 20% believe people back home don’t believe a continued occupation will work. Another 16% said they believe those favoring a quick withdrawal do so because they oppose the use of the military in a pre-emptive war, while 15% said they do not believe those Americans understand the need for the U.S. troops in Iraq.
The wide-ranging poll also shows that 58% of those serving in country say the U.S. mission in Iraq is clear in their minds, while 42% said it is either somewhat or very unclear to them, that they have no understanding of it at all, or are unsure. While 85% said the U.S. mission is mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” 77% said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.”
“Ninety-three percent said that removing weapons of mass destruction is not a reason for U.S. troops being there,” said Pollster John Zogby, President and CEO of Zogby International. “Instead, that initial rationale went by the wayside and, in the minds of 68% of the troops, the real mission became to remove Saddam Hussein.” Just 24% said that “establishing a democracy that can be a model for the Arab World" was the main or a major reason for the war. Only small percentages see the mission there as securing oil supplies (11%) or to provide long-term bases for US troops in the region (6%).
The continuing insurgent attacks have not turned U.S. troops against the Iraqi population, the survey shows. More than 80% said they did not hold a negative view of Iraqis because of those attacks. About two in five see the insurgency as being comprised of discontented Sunnis with very few non-Iraqi helpers. “There appears to be confusion on this,” Zogby said. But, he noted, less than a third think that if non-Iraqi terrorists could be prevented from crossing the border into Iraq, the insurgency would end. A majority of troops (53%) said the U.S. should double both the number of troops and bombing missions in order to control the insurgency.
The survey shows that most U.S. military personnel in-country have a clear sense of right and wrong when it comes to using banned weapons against the enemy, and in interrogation of prisoners. Four in five said they oppose the use of such internationally banned weapons as napalm and white phosphorous. And, even as more photos of prisoner abuse in Iraq surface around the world, 55% said it is not appropriate or standard military conduct to use harsh and threatening methods against insurgent prisoners in order to gain information of military value.
Three quarters of the troops had served multiple tours and had a longer exposure to the conflict: 26% were on their first tour of duty, 45% were on their second tour, and 29% were in Iraq for a third time or more.
A majority of the troops serving in Iraq said they were satisfied with the war provisions from Washington. Just 30% of troops said they think the Department of Defense has failed to provide adequate troop protections, such as body armor, munitions, and armor plating for vehicles like HumVees. Only 35% said basic civil infrastructure in Iraq, including roads, electricity, water service, and health care, has not improved over the past year. Three of every four were male respondents, with 63% under the age of 30.
The survey included 944 military respondents interviewed at several undisclosed locations throughout Iraq. The names of the specific locations and specific personnel who conducted the survey are being withheld for security purposes. Surveys were conducted face-to-face using random sampling techniques. The margin of error for the survey, conducted Jan. 18 through Feb. 14, 2006, is +/- 3.3 percentage points.