WASHINGTON — Seventy-two percent of troops on the ground in Iraq think U.S. military forces should get out of the country within a year, according to a Zogby poll released Tuesday.
The survey of 944 troops, conducted in Iraq between Jan. 18 and Feb. 14, said that only 23 percent of servicemembers thought U.S. forces should stay “as long as they are needed.”
Of the 72 percent, 22 percent said troops should leave within the next six months, and 29 percent said they should withdraw “immediately.” Twenty-one percent said the U.S. military presence should end within a year; 5 percent weren’t sure.
But policy experts differ on exactly what those numbers mean.
Justin Logan, a foreign policy analyst for the Cato Institute, called the figure alarming, and a sign that the Bush administration and troops in Iraq see the goals and the progress of the war very differently.
The president has opposed any plans for a withdrawal date, saying troops will remain until Iraq’s security is assured. Logan sees so many troops wanting a clear time line as showing “an alarming disconnect” between the policy and its implementation.
But Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute, said troops who say the U.S. should withdraw could be concerned for their own safety, or they could be optimistic about progress so far, or they could simply be opposed to the idea of operations in Iraq.
“You have to pick apart each servicemember’s thought process to understand what that means,” he said. “I think this is about personal circumstances, and not proof there is a higher rate of troops who desire departure.”
Defense Department officials declined to comment on the poll, saying they did not have details on how the survey was conducted.
John Zogby, CEO of the polling company, said the poll was funded through Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies, which received money for the project from an anonymous, anti-war activist, but neither the activist nor the school had input on the content of the poll.
Zogby said the survey was conducted face-to-face throughout Iraq, with permission from commanders. Despite the difficulty of polling in a war zone, he said, pollsters were pleased with the results.
“This is a credible and representative look at what the troops are saying,” he said. “Clearly there are those [in the U.S.] who will speak for the troops, so there is a real value in seeing what they are actually saying.”
The poll also shows that 42 percent of the troops surveyed are unsure of their mission in Iraq, and that 85 percent believe a major reason they were sent into war was “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the Sept. 11 attacks.” Ninety-three percent said finding and destroying weapons of mass destruction is not a reason for the ongoing military action.
“We were surprised by that, especially the 85 percent [figure],” Zogby said. “Clearly that is much higher than the consensus among the American public, and the public’s perception [on that topic] is much higher than the actual reality of the situation.”
In terms of current operations, 80 percent of those polled said they did not hold a negative view of all Iraqis because of the ongoing attacks against coalition military forces.
More than 43 percent of those polled said their equipment, such as Humvees, body armor and munitions, is adequate for the jobs facing them, while 30 percent said it is not.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. and chairman of the Victory in Iraq Caucus, a group of 118 Republican lawmakers, said the poll does not diminish his opinion of the importance of the armed forces role in Iraq.
“Whatever the percentages are, I know 100 percent of our troops want to complete their mission over there,” he said. “My view is, whatever the poll results say, the bottom line is these are troops who will continue their mission, because they would rather fight the enemy overseas than at home.”
Of those surveyed, 75 percent have served multiple tours in Iraq, 63 percent were under 30 years old, and 75 percent were male.