By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Eight out of 10 Arabs have an unfavorable view of the United States and only six percent believe the U.S. troop build-up in Iraq in the last year has worked, said a poll of six Arab countries released on Monday.
The poll by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, also found most Arabs did not see U.S. foe Iran as a threat and they sympathized more with Hamas in the Palestinian Territories than U.S.-backed Fatah.
â€œThere is a growing mistrust and lack of confidence in the United States,â€ said Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor in charge of the annual poll.
The survey canvassed the opinions of about 4,000 people over the past month in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. It has a margin of error of about 1.6 percent.
Of those polled, 83 percent had an unfavorable view of the United States and 70 percent had no confidence in the superpower.
â€œYou see this (mistrust) in the number of people who are more comfortable with the US withdrawal from Iraq,â€ said Telhami, noting that more people in this yearâ€™s annual survey wanted the United States to leave Iraq.
Last year, 44 percent believed Iraqis would find a way to bridge their differences if the United States pulled out but that figure rose to 61 percent this year.
Only six percent of the respondents believed the U.S. boost of troop levels in Iraq last year by 30,000 had worked to reduce the conflict and one in three mistrusted news reports that violence had declined at all.
Eight in 10 Arabs believed that Iraqis were worse off than they were before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, while 2 percent thought they were better off.
The biggest concern was that Iraq would remain unstable and spread instability in the region, with 59 percent voicing this worry over 42 percent last year.
In contrast to U.S. government views, most Arabs did not see Iran as a major threat and 67 percent considered Tehran had the right to a nuclear program.
Over 80 percent of respondents identified the Arab-Israeli conflict as a key issue but just over half — 55 percent — did not believe there would ever be a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians despite U.S. efforts to broker a deal between the two by the end of this year.
The United States has sought to isolate the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which took control of the Gaza strip last June, while U.S.-backed President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement control the West Bank.
In the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, only 8 percent said they sympathized most with Fatah and 18 percent were more partial to Hamas, while 37 percent said they backed both.
In the Lebanese conflict, only 9 percent expressed sympathy with the majority governing coalition supported by Washington while 30 percent backed the opposition led by the militant group Hezbollah, which the United States opposes.
Hezbollahâ€™s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallahâ€™s popularity grew as did Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Asked which world leader they disliked most, U.S. President George W. Bush was at the top of the unpopularity poll with 63 percent followed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with 39 percent.
Looking ahead to the next U.S. president, 18 percent of respondents believed Democratic contender Barack Obama had the best chance of advancing peace in the Middle East followed by 13 percent who saw Hillary Clinton as their best hope.
Only 4 percent chose Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for this Novemberâ€™s U.S. presidential election. The remainder either U.S. policy would stay the same whoever won or they were not following election.
One in three respondents believed U.S. policy would remain the same, no matter who won the U.S. election and 20 percent said they were not following the U.S. election anyway.
(Editing by David Storey)