What the U.S. public wants is much discussed in the media nearly every week poll results are announced indicating how many people believe the United States should withdraw all or some troops from Iraq (63 percent, according to the latest USA Today/CNN Gallup Poll) and how many believe the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq (59 percent, from the same poll). As U.S. citizens we certainly have an interest in whether the troops stay. Our tax money funds the U.S. military presence, and our young men and women are being killed and injured there. So our opinions matter.
Some polls have asked Iraqis specifically about the presence of U.S. troops, and guess what: they want us to leave. A February poll by the U.S. military, cited by the Brookings Institution, found that 71 percent of Iraqis "oppose the presence of Coalition Forces in Iraq. " This poll was taken only in urban areas, but others have found much the same sentiment. According to a January 2005 poll by Abu Dhabi TV/Zogby International, 82 percent of Sunni Arabs and 69 percent of Shiite Arabs favor the withdrawal of U.S. troops either immediately or after an elected government is in place.
But an opinion poll does not carry the weight of a referendum, in which all Iraqis could clearly and definitively vote on whether or not U.S. troops should remain in their country. This can be done: Kurdish activists organized a referendum on independence during the January national elections in Iraq, which found that over 90 percent of Kurd voters want independence for the region. On October 15 Iraqis vote, in another referendum, on whether to accept a new constitution.
It appears that we as a nation are so self-absorbed that both the hawks and the doves among us have forgotten to ask what those most affected by the war the Iraqi people themselves--want. Let us remedy this situation by supporting a referendum and then abiding by the results. Let the Iraqi people decide.