ANN ARBOR - Over the last two years, Iraqi political values have become more secular and nationalistic, even though attitudes toward Americans have deteriorated, according to surveys of nationally representative samples of the population conducted in November 2004 and April 2006.
The Iraqi surveys, part of the ongoing World Values Surveys, are a collaborative project between the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and Eastern Michigan University.
When asked what they thought were the three main reasons why the United States invaded Iraq, 76 percent gave "to control Iraqi oil" as their first choice.
But at the same time, significantly more Iraqis support democratic values, including the separation of religion and politics.
In 2004, 27 percent of the 2,325 Iraqi adults surveyed strongly agreed that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated.
"The findings of this second survey show that even though Iraqis have a more negative attitude to foreigners, especially Americans, they are moving closer to American values and are developing a much stronger sense of national identity," said Mansoor Moaddel, a sociologist at Eastern Michigan University and at the ISR.
Moaddel and U-M colleagues Mark Tessler and Ronald Inglehart, who directs the ISR World Values Surveys, analyzed the findings from the two face-to-face surveys, which were carried out by the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, a survey research firm in Baghdad.
The survey, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, included interviews with Shi'a and Sunni Arabs and with Kurds.
In one indication of a possible lessening of sectarian conflict, the proportion of Iraqis who identified themselves as Muslim Arabs rather than as Shi'a or Sunni Arabs increased from 6 percent in 2004 to 14 percent in 2006.
Despite increased political violence between the Shi'as and the Sunnis, the researchers found no significant change in the overall level of inter-ethnic trust among Iraqis.
This change was from 41 percent to 48 percent among Shi'as, 77 percent to 84 percent among Sunnis and 67 percent to 79 percent among Muslims.
Even so, Moaddel believes that changing Iraqi attitudes about secularism and territorial nationalism may bode well for Iraq's future.
"Iraqis' increasing attachment to national identity and increasing support for secular discourse may support the formation of a modern and democratic political order," he said.