EDITORS: Charts are available at: http://www.umich.edu/news/index.html?Releases/2006/Jan06/iraq_charts
Newswise — More than three-quarters of Iraqis support a democratic political system but they are divided on the role Islam should play in their country's government, according to a University of Michigan study.
The study says 51 percent favor a strong link between government and religion and 49 percent prefer a secular political system.
The findings, just published in the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Democracy, are based on a survey of a representative area probability sample of 2,325 Iraqis conducted in November and December 2004 with funding from the National Science Foundation. The survey was carried out in collaboration with the Baghdad-based Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies.
Respondents came from Baghdad and 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces, and included Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds in proportion to their numbers in the population. The researchers were unable to survey residents of Ninawa (Mosul) because of the security situation and Dahuk, because of opposition from Iraqi authorities.
"The vast majority of Iraqis of all three of the country's major ethnoreligious communities expressed support for democracy over authoritarian political systems," said U-M political scientist Mark Tessler, lead author of the study.
But Tessler and co-authors Mansoor Moaddell and Ronald Inglehart, all affiliated with the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), found important differences in the kind of democratic system the groups preferred. Kurds and Sunnis were more likely to support a secular democracy in which Islam plays no formal political role, while Shi'ites---who make up about 60 percent of the country's population---were more likely to favor an Islamic democracy, in which more people with strong religious beliefs hold public office and the government gives greater weight to Islamic laws.
The newly endorsed Iraqi constitution includes a provision to uphold the laws of the Shari'a, but the key question is how strictly and literally the government should enforce Islamic laws. The U-M survey provides insight into this question by illuminating popular attitudes toward the rights and status of women---an issue that serves as a litmus test of liberal versus conservative views regarding the interpretation of Islamic law.
"Those who take a more liberal position believe that Islam, properly interpreted, gives equal rights to men and women," Tessler said. "Those who take a more conservative position believe that the religion gives women a different and ultimately inferior position to men in a number of important areas."
The researchers found that respondents who favored Islamic democracy were more likely than those who favored a secular form of democracy to believe that the education of boys is more important than the education of girls, to oppose gender mixing at universities, and to believe that it is acceptable for a man to have more than one wife.
They also found that those who favor Islamic democracy were as likely as those who favor Islamic authoritarianism, if not more so, to take traditional and conservative positions regarding the status of women.
"Given the violence and uncertainty prevailing in Iraq when this survey was conducted, the data allow for optimism in some important respects," the authors concluded. "There is broad support for democracy and a majority attach more importance to forging a common national identity than to preserving and protecting their particular group's special interests.
"Unfortunately, there is substantial disagreement about the role that Islam should play in political affairs, and this disagreement overlaps with and reinforces differences between Iraq's major ethnoreligious communities."
Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at http://www.isr.umich.edu for more information.[iraq]
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January 2006 issue of the Journal of Democracy (Jan-2006)