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7 of 8 Islamic Nations in Poll Fear U.S. Attack

More than 50% surveyed in those countries are 'very worried' or 'somewhat worried' about a perceived military threat.

June 04, 2003|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- With the war in Iraq a fresh memory, majorities of citizens in seven of eight Islamic countries surveyed in a new poll -- including longtime U.S. military ally Turkey -- said they fear a U.S. military attack.

The war has deepened hostility among Muslims toward the United States, damaged the image of the United Nations as a peacemaker, and convinced many Europeans that they need greater independence from the United States, according to the poll, part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

According to the poll, 74% of Indonesians, 72% of Nigerians and 72% of Pakistanis were "very worried" or "somewhat worried" about a perceived military threat from the United States. In Turkey, 71% had similar fears, as did 53% of Kuwaitis, whose government has also had a close relationship with the United States.

Additionally, 58% of Lebanese and 56% of Jordanians were found to have such fears. The only Islamic country in the poll lacking a majority who shared that opinion was Morocco, where the figure was 46%.

The survey, overseen by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, was conducted April 28 to May 15, and involved 16,000 interviews in 20 countries and parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

It also indicated that, as the United States is pushing for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a widespread view -- even among Israelis -- that the United States favors Israel too much. Of the 21 regions surveyed, pluralities or majorities in all but the United States believed that U.S. policy favored Israel too much.

Among Israelis, 47% believe that the United States favors Israel too much, while 38% say the policy is fair and 11% think the United States favors Palestinians too much.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center, said the 47% figure reflects the existence of a large peace movement in Israel, and that 19% of Israelis are Arab.

Kohut said the poll shows the challenge the administration faces in trying to win Islamic support for the U.S.-led rebuilding of Iraq and U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. The results also show the difficulty, he said, of trying to convince the public in Islamic nations that the U.S. "war on terrorism" isn't a war on Islam.

"It's going to be a real challenge to turn Muslim opinion around," Kohut said.

But Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century, a Washington conservative think tank, said the Bush administration can overcome much of its problem with Muslim opinion if it can "put Iraq back on its feet in a successful way. That will do more for the polling than any amount of [U.S. government-produced] radio broadcasting."

And in the case of some governments, he said, it may be helpful "to have them fearful that we're not going to tolerate certain kinds of behavior."

The survey found that 76% of the French, 57% of Germans, 62% of Spaniards and 45% of Britons believe that Europe should become more independent from the United States.

It showed that European opinion of the United States bounced back somewhat between March, in the anxious prewar period, and May, after the war ended.

Forty-eight percent of Britons said they had a favorable opinion of the United States before the war; the figure rose to 70% in May. In Italy, 34% approved of the United States in March; the share rose to 60% last month. But that bounce left favorable opinion of the United States still markedly lower than it was in 2002 in the five European countries surveyed.

There was also a sharp decline in approval of the United Nations, which has been looked on as an important international institution for avoiding wars.

Over the last year, the share of Americans who considered the United Nations "a good influence" fell from 72% to 43%. Over the same period, it slid from 75% to 47% in France, 79% to 46% in Germany, and from 78% to 41% in Britain.

The war did not greatly change opinion about the merits of using force against Saddam Hussein's government.

In countries that strongly opposed the war, "people overwhelmingly believed their countries made the right decision to stay out of the conflict," the poll report said. "In countries that backed the war, with the notable exception of Spain, [people] believe their governments made the right decision."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the top-rated world leader in the U.S., according to the survey. Among Americans, 83% said they had "a lot" or "some" confidence in Britain's Labor Party leader -- President Bush's staunchest ally in the Iraq war -- to do the right thing. Bush was second with 78%.

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