Since Iraq became our enemy upon invading Kuwait in 1990, our media has always allowed Iraqi officials to tell their side of the story. That guy who looks like he's always wearing Groucho glasses, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, is a regular on American political talk shows. Even Saddam Hussein himself has gotten in on the act. Not only was he just interviewed by Dan Rather for CBS News, but rumor has it that he and his family just completed filming the first season of "The Husseins," MSNBC's hip and edgy new reality show.
Throughout our ongoing conflict though, Iraqi public opinion has been almost completely ignored. Despite winning another term as president of Iraq with an impressive 100 percent of the vote in last October's election, his true popularity among Iraqis ranks somewhere between "Satan" and "genital self-mutilation." The Bush administration suggests that U.S. soldiers will be welcomed by the Iraqi people as liberators. Hussein's homies agree, but only if you take out "as liberators" and put in "with bullets."
Who's right? Well, foreign press have a very difficult time interviewing Iraqis because interviews are usually supervised by Iraqi government officials. If you conducted a poll, the result would probably be something like "53 percent of Iraqis think Saddam is a great leader, while 47 percent disagree, saying that Saddam is the greatest human ever."
While you can't do an American news media style poll of Iraqis, it is possible to pull another news media trick -- divide Iraqis into arbitrary categories and then discuss them in terms so general that it's nearly impossible to be wrong. Here goes:
The Kurds -- The Kurdish people occupy much of northern Iraq, as well parts of eastern Turkey, Iran and Syria. When people in the news talk about how Saddam gassed his own people, the Kurds are who they're talking about. (Incidentally, after Saddam gassed them back in the '80s, we continued to strongly support him).
If the Kurds could have their way, they'd take chunks of Northern Iraq and Eastern Turkey and form an independent Kurdish state. They certainly haven't had the easiest time as minorities in other people's countries. While they welcome Saddam's fall, they're worried that in order to keep Turkey as an active ally in the war that we're gonna ignore Kurdish demands from self-determination. The Turks are worried that independence for Kurds in Northern Iraq will fuel the Kurdish separatist movement in their own country.
The Shi'ites -- Sunnis and Shi'ites are Islam's two biggest sects. Iraq is a majority Shi'ite nation, but Saddam and his government are Sunni. Iraqi Shi'ites, who live primarily in the southern third of Iraq, will welcome Saddam's fall since he's generally treated them like shi'ite. Nevertheless, they're justifiably suspicious of the U.S. because after the first Gulf War we encouraged them to rise up against Saddam and then refused to help them as Saddam brutally put down their rebellion. After Saddam is gone, they may go agitating for autonomy and or independence, just like The Kurds.
The Government -- For obvious reasons, Saddam's inner circle doesn't want a U.S. invasion. When the shit hits the fan, it's gonna get sprayed all over them. But a trickier concern is the large part of the population that runs Iraq's police state apparatus. To effectively rule with fear, as Saddam has, you've got to have a massive system of informants. By some estimates, there's a Saddam spy for every 30 or 40 Iraqis -- or in American suburban terms -- there's a couple of narcs on every block. When Saddam falls, the backlash against this huge police apparatus could be big and bloody.