ISIS Is Still Winning Hearts And Minds In Iraq

The Islamic State continues to build support among some of the territory it controls, despite suffering a series of recent setbacks

Dec 22, 2015 at 7:02 PM ET

The Islamic State may be winning the hearts and minds of people living under its control as these residents grow disillusioned with the military strategies being waged to topple the terror group, according to a rare public opinion poll.

Research published by IIACCS, a reputable polling firm in Iraq, shows that support for ISIS among residents living in Mosul, the nation’s second-largest city, has steadily increased since it fell to the terror group 18 months ago. The survey also found that residents’ doubts about the Iraqi Army, and about the aggressive anti-ISIS air campaign led by the United States, are lingering.

Nearly 40 percent of people surveyed said ISIS represents their views and interests. That’s up from just 10 percent in June 2014, the month the militants seized control of the city. Around 34 percent of participants said that they now support the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate and 39 percent would like jihadists to maintain control of Mosul.

“While only a minority prefer IS, that minority is growing,” said IIACSS’ CEO Munqith Dagher, using a different acronym for the Islamic State.

That may be because those interviewed in Mosul see few viable alternatives to ISIS. Sixty percent said they had no confidence in the Iraqi Army’s ability to improve the country’s stability, even as its soldiers push to recapture Ramadi from the Islamic State. Their faith in other Iraqi state institutions is also dismal. Only 18 percent said they were confident the Iraqi parliament could effect change. Just 30 percent believe the Iraqi police have the ability to do so.

Meanwhile, many expressed fear and suspicion about the United States’ role in battling ISIS. A majority of participants said they were opposed to the U.S.-led air campaign in Iraq. Nearly 46 percent believed American airstrikes posed the greatest threat to them and their families, more than any other response. And, in a concerning development, 60 percent of Mosul residents now believe that the U.S. is secretly supporting the Islamic State.

Though IIACSS has a reputation for providing reliable polling and public opinion data across the Middle East, its sample size for the person-to-person interviews in Mosul has been relatively small. The firm selected a random sample of 200 people living in Mosul in June 2014 and followed up with them a year later. This month, IIACSS was able to conduct in-person interviews with only 120 of them. Nevertheless, the data offers a rare comprehensive glimpse into the lives of people under ISIS control.