Poll shows majority want UK troops to pull out

By Nigel Morris

10 May 2004

Independent

Independent/MOP poll
Should British troops pull out of Iraq by 30th June?
55 per cent: YES
28 per cent: NO
17 per cent: DON'T KNOW

Voters support the withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq by the end of next month by a majority of two to one, a poll for The Independent reveals today.

With ministers considering sending more soldiers to Iraq to quell the insurrection against Allied forces, the survey reflects growing public discontent about government policy on the war and occupation.

The poll comes at a turbulent time for the Government, rocked by allegations over the mistreatment of Iraqi captives. Yesterday, in a further embarrassment for Britain and America, it emerged that their ambassadors to Switzerland had been summoned by the Swiss government to demand respect for international law in the treatment of prisoners in Iraq.

Acting as the guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare, the Swiss Foreign Minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, said she felt "abhorrence and rage" over the disclosures of prisoner abuse.

She told the SonntagsBlick weekly: "It violates international humanitarian law. I am very concerned. These are occurrences that we cannot keep silent about."

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, faces an uncomfortable Commons appearance today when he makes a statement on Iraq. It is bound to be dominated by challenges about the alleged abuse of prisoners of war and suggestions that the Government was alerted to human rights concerns about their treatment as long as a year ago.

His appearance comes after a torrid weekend for the British forces patrolling Basra in southern Iraq. Calm was restored to the city last night after violence left at least two Iraqis dead and seven British troops injured.

They were under attack throughout the weekend, first confronting hundreds of militiamen loyal to the radical Shia leader Muqtada Sadr on Saturday and then suffering a grenade attack yesterday.

As new pictures of brutality by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad intensified the political pressure on the Bush administration, details of the first court martial in connection with abuse of Iraqi prisoners were announced.

Specialist Jeremy C Sivits, 24, of Pennsylvania, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, will stand trial in Baghdad on 19 May. He has been charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty and maltreatment of detainees. If convicted of all charges, he could face one year in prison, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine or a bad conduct discharge.

An explosion at a market in Baghdad yesterday killed at least three Iraqis and wounded nine. In a separate incident, three Iraqi policemen, two civilians and a guerrilla fighter were also killed in a gun battle.

The NOP survey was conducted between 30 April and 2 May as the storm broke over pictures of soldiers allegedly abusing Iraqi prisoners. It also followed an upsurge of attacks on coalition forces by both Sunni and Shia militants.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents called for British troops to be pulled out by 30 June, the planned date for the transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi administration. Sixteen per cent supported an immediate withdrawal and 39 per cent thought the 8,000 soldiers in Iraq should be brought back to coincide with next month's handover of power.

Twenty-eight per cent supported an open-ended British military commitment to Iraq, and 17 per cent said they did not have a firm view.

Hostility to British involvement in Iraq runs across both sexes, all age groups, all social classes and all parts of the country.

The deployment is opposed by 57 per cent of women, 53 per cent of men, 52 per cent of professional and managerial groups, 59 per cent of unskilled workers, 61 per cent of the over-65s and 54 per cent of voters between 15 and 24 years old. The opposition is shared by at least 55 per cent of voters in Scotland, the North, the Midlands and the South.

The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on the poll. But its results will intensify fears among ministers that Labour faces an electoral backlash from the "Iraq factor" at next month's European and local government elections.

Professor Colin Francombe, of Middlesex University, who commissioned the survey, said: "People were sold war on the basis that it would only be temporary. Most do not want it to be an ongoing commitment."