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Dagher discusses ISIL in Iraq and new public opinion data

Coverage of START Special Lecture

In a special lecture at START, Dr. Munqith Dagher offered his observations on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq, the country’s future and Iraqi public opinion, based on recent cutting-edge poll data. Slides from the lecture, “ISIL in Iraq: A disease or just the symptoms? A public opinion analysis,” are available by requesting them at https://www.start.umd.edu/webform/slide-request-daghers-isil-iraq-lecture-624.  

In 2003, Dagher launched the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies (IIACSS), a public opinion and marketing research company based in Iraq. Since then, Dagher has interviewed more than 1.5 million people and managed more than 300 projects. Dagher has also conducted the only public opinion poll to-date in Mosul since the takeover by ISIL. The poll consisted of 200 telephone interviews recorded June 19 and June 20. Dr. Mansoor Moaddel, START investigator and research affiliate at the Institute for Social Research (ISR), recently published findings from the surveys at http://mevs.org/files/tmp/IsIraqFallingApart_June2014.pdf through the University of Michigan ISR.

Dagher visited the United States to discuss the findings from the surveys as well as his own views of the situation. 

“It’s not just a lecture, it’s a message—I am carrying a message that I want the Aerican people to understand. By focusing on the current situation in Iraq, I’m trying to help avoid past mistakes,” Dagher said.

Months before the current takeover by ISIL, Dagher’s data indicated that something was amiss in Iraq. In order to understand what was happening on the ground, Dagher assembled a team of eight researchers and interviewed Iraqis in Mosul.

“On June 9, ISIL took over Mosul. The entire army in Mosul collapsed in a few hours, and took us entirely by surprise. My team knew something was going to happen, but not in this way or with this speed. No one anticipated this,” Dagher said.

As Dagher pored over information about the siege, there was a missing link. ISIL, according to media reports, had no more than 500 troops. The total number of security forces in Mosul was between 120,000 and 150,000, in a city of two million people.

“Was it really ISIL that took over? That is the big question,” Dagher said.

Dagher contacted sources in Mosul who informed him that a majority of the armed groups are not ISIL, but Sunnis protesting the treatment they received in Iraq. They feel that they are being treated as “third-level citizens,” according to Dagher.

“This made sense to me. It was very clear that this isn’t a group of jihadists or other unorganized people. They are moving according to a very organized military plan. Some are ex-military; they are well educated and well trained, and they are leading now,” Dagher said.

After further questioning, he learned that these armed groups have an alliance with ISIL, but only a temporary one, according to Dagher. The groups have yet to announce their presence because of a lack of trust with government agencies and concern about safety for themselves and their families, he said.

“The good news is that all these groups recognize ISIL as a terrorist organization. They have a mutual goal right now: to defeat the central government and it’s army,” Dagher said. “Both Sunnis and Shiites see terrorism as a problem, but the Sunnis were fed up with the central government.”

“We need new faces in Iraq for the government to succeed. The people don’t trust their politicians and want direct representation. Then, and only then, will they put down their guns and negotiate peacefully,” Dagher said.