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EU: Europeans Strongly Critical Of U.S. Policy In Iraq, Despite Efforts To Increase International Involvement

A European Commission survey has shown that people in many EU states remain strongly critical of Washington's Iraq policy, despite recent efforts by the U.S. to increase international involvement in reconstructing the country. The survey found that a majority of those polled in the 15 EU member states rank the U.S. as equal to Iran and North Korea in posing a threat to world peace.

Prague, 4 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission regularly conducts opinion surveys within the European Union on a wide variety of topics as part of its so-called Eurobarometer program. But the results are rarely as startling as those released this week from a poll asking Europeans about their views on Iraq and global security.

The poll of 500 people in each of the EU member states found that 53 percent of respondents ranked the United States alongside North Korea and Iran as dangers to world peace. The only state which fared worse in the poll was Israel, which 59 percent of respondents rated as the world's biggest peace threat.

The results have created a furor, with both Israel and the U.S. casting doubts on the poll's reliability. Israel today charged that the survey questions were designed to cast it in a negative light. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the results showed the respondents' perceptions of America's role are "very different from reality." And the European Commission itself has since cautioned that the survey is just one among many, not a definitive picture on which to base policy decisions.

Still, the poll is interesting because it appears to confirm that most Europeans remain highly critical of Washington's Iraq policy, despite recent U.S. efforts to increase international involvement in reconstructing the country.

Henner Fuertig, a policy expert at the German Institute for Middle East Studies in Hamburg, told RFE/RL that most Europeans are growing more convinced with time that Washington and London acted dangerously in solving the Iraq crisis unilaterally.

"I think that [Europeans feel there has been] more or less a confirmation of all these concerns prior to the war. All the leading European media, many, many politicians were warning the administration in Washington to consider very seriously [not] to start this war. And now they have got the impression that they were right in the months and weeks preceding the war," Fuertig said.

In Germany, many top political figures continue to publicly criticize the U.S., despite official efforts between Bonn and Washington to mend rifts caused by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's outspoken opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck yesterday told an international security conference in Berlin that "one can ask a question whether what the United States did in Iraq was legitimate under international law." Struck said Washington's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "has shown how thin the ice can be when one embarks on a war of self-defense on the basis of supposedly clear proof of an imminent threat."

Michael Emerson of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels also sees the attitude of many Europeans hardening over Iraq. He said mainstream opinion has moved over the past months from strong antiwar feelings prior to the invasion, to uncertainty during the course of the war, to the now growing conviction that Washington is stuck in a no-win situation.

"Right from the beginning, European public opinion has been hugely against the idea of the Iraq war, although it was very much behind the Afghanistan war. But Iraq is a bridge too far. That was the initial position. Then, as the war was prepared, of course, there were many people who were sincerely uncertain as to exactly what would happen, whether the Iraqis would be dancing in the street as [U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz suggested, or whether it would be a huge and tragic mess," Emerson said.

He continued: "[Now] European public opinion is observing that this, indeed, is a terrible mess, and it's a terrible trap that the U.S. has gotten itself into because it can't control the situation. And it can't walk away either without that presenting huge disadvantages."

The degree of public criticism of Washington's actions in Iraq varies between EU states, where some governments -- such as Britain, Spain, and Portugal -- have supported Washington, while others -- such as France and Germany -- have repeatedly faulted it. But across the EU, most people are reported to feel that the Iraq issue should have been -- and still must be -- solved within the framework of the United Nations.

Fuertig said that if Washington wants to change the perception of its foreign policies among Europeans, the UN is the place to begin. "Within the European Union, there are large differences between Britain and France, between Germany and Spain, for example. And I think the crucial question is the role of the United Nations. If the Americans will concede the leading, most prominent, role to the United Nations in Iraq, then I think the attitude in the EU will change remarkably," he said.

So far, the U.S. has sought with some success to obtain UN endorsement of its efforts to financially reconstruct post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. But Washington has reserved the lead political role in returning Iraq to self-government for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

The UN last month unanimously approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution making it clear that the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq is temporary and that the occupation administration will turn over power to Iraqis "as soon as practicable."

The resolution also called on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to provide the Security Council in the next two months with a schedule for drafting a constitution and holding elections.