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Poll - More Iraqis want democracy


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May 14, 2004, 2:22 PM EDT

PHOENIX -- Iraqis are likely to say they want to live in a democracy, though they don't necessarily understand how it works.

Some pollsters who have done nationwide surveys of Iraq in recent months talked about their findings at a meeting this week of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

One barrier to democracy is that many in the country need more information about how it would work, their research suggests.

"There's the sense that people in Iraq know they want democracy, but they don't know how to get there," said Christoph Sahm, director of Oxford Research International.

Sahm's firm conducted its first nationwide poll of Iraq last fall, and conducted another in February for ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp., the German broadcasting network ARD and the Japanese network NHK. Oxford is continuing to poll in Iraq.

Richard Burkholder, director of international polling for Gallup, said the type of government Iraqis preferred was a multiparty democracy like those in many Western European countries.

"Very low down the list is an Islamic theocracy, in which mullahs and religious leaders have a lot of influence, such as in Iran," said Burkholder, who polled in Baghdad in August and nationwide in late March and early April for CNN and USA Today.

In the most recent Gallup poll, four in 10 said they preferred a multiparty parliamentary democracy -- that was the form of government most often mentioned. When Oxford Research International asked Iraqis in a separate poll to name the party they favored or the candidate they backed, the majority offered no preference on either question.

For Sahm, the inability or unwillingness to answer those questions indicates Iraqis have much to learn about how democracies and political parties work after decades living in a country ruled by a dictator.

Sahm and Burkholder said they've found Iraqis have a sense of optimism about the future of their country. But they understand that nothing can be achieved until the nation is more secure.

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