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Updated 10:00 AM September 10, 2007




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Survey: Secular, nationalist surge in Iraq continues

With the Bush Administration's progress report on Iraq due by Sept. 15, a new survey of nationally representative samples of the Iraqi population shows a continuation of two trends that give some reason for optimism about the future of the battle-scarred country: A continued shift away from political Islam among Sunnis and Kurds and a shift toward Iraqi nationalism among majority Shiites.

Those are the key findings from a July 2007 survey of 7,732 Iraqis, the fifth in a series, says Mansoor Moaddel, a sociology professor at Eastern Michigan University and a research affiliate at the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

Moaddel has been working with U-M colleagues and a private Iraqi research group, the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, on a series of face-to-face surveys of nationally representative samples of the Iraqi population. Previous surveys were conducted in December 2004, April and October 2006, and March 2007.

Religion and politics

In the July survey, 53 percent of those interviewed identified themselves as Shiites, 26 percent as Sunnis, 16 percent as Kurds and 5 percent as Muslims. Those who identified themselves as Muslim only declined to claim identity with a specific Islamic sect.

A majority of the Sunnis (54 percent) and Kurds (65 percent) said that it was "very important" to have a government that makes law according to the people's wishes, while a much smaller percentage of the Shiites (34 percent) thought so. On the other hand, only a minority of the Sunnis (14 percent) and the Kurds (18 percent) said that it was "very important" to have a government that implements only the Shari'a (Islamic law). This percentage was higher among the Shiites (27 percent). In the country as a whole, 71 percent of Iraqis said it was "very important" or "somewhat important" for the government to make laws according to the people's wishes, compared with 51 percent who said the same about implementing the Shari'a only.

"The Kurds and the Sunnis dislike religious regimes," says Moaddel, "while the Shiites have a problem with secular politics."

The Shiites also were the least likely to strongly agree that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated, the series of surveys shows. Specifically, 53 percent of the Sunnis, 68 percent of the Kurds and 22 percent of the Shiites "strongly agreed" that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated, according to the July 2007 survey.

National identity

In terms of national identity, however, the Shiites were most likely to describe themselves as "Iraqis, above all" as opposed to "Muslims, Arabs or Kurds above all." In the July survey, 71 percent of Shiites described themselves as Iraqis, above all, compared with 66 percent of those who self-identified only as Muslims, 57 percent of Sunnis and just 17 percent of Kurds.

Moaddel also found that the more education people had, the more secular and nationalistic their attitudes likely were to be. For example, 65 percent of those with university educations described themselves as Iraqis, above all, compared with 60 percent of those with elementary and high school educations, and 55 percent of those with no education.

The catch: only about 10 percent of Iraqis have a university education, Moaddel says. "Iraqi culture was destroyed 10 years before the invasion," he says. "The harsh economic sanctions we imposed after the Persian Gulf War undermined Iraqi quality of life and quality of education, with money meant for food programs going into Saddam's coffers."

Moaddel's book, "Islamic Modernism, Nationalism and Fundamentalism," a comparative historical analysis of ideological movements in the Islamic world from the mid-1800s to the present, was named co-winner of the 2007 Distinguished Book Award by the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association. Born in Iran, Moaddel is a U.S. citizen who has lived in this country for 31 years.

To read the full findings from the Iraqi surveys, go to

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