Iraq war damaged Britain's reputation in the world

Over half the public think British involvement in Iraq war damaged our reputation around the world - but majority still think we should intervene abroad when justified.

Over half the public think British involvement in Iraq war damaged our reputation around the world – but majority still think we should intervene abroad when justified The public’s view of whether war in Iraq was justified has shifted significantly over the years, as new information became available and the long-term impacts became clearer. The polling trends show that support peaked at over 60% in favour, but this fell away as the war went on and the lack of evidence of WMD became clear. By 2007 83% opposed the war in an Ipsos MORI poll. On the tenth anniversary of invasion, a new King’s Ipsos MORI poll shows opposition to British involvement still the majority view. 70% say they think Britain was wrong to get involved, with 51% saying they opposed it all along and 19% that they supported it at the time but now oppose it. But there is some sign of a increasing minority becoming more convinced. Back in 2007, only 11% said they supported the war all along, by 2013 20% say they supported the invasion and British involvement. The reasons given for support are varied but focus on over-throwing Sadam Hussein and improving the lives of the Iraqi people. Opposition is driven by feeling lied to, including on WMD, particularly by Tony Blair - and that it was none of our business. The public are split on whether it has improved lives of ordinary Iraqis – around three in ten think it has made life better, but the same proportion think it has made lives worse, and the same think it has made no difference. There is a clearer view that the war did not improve global stability – indeed four in ten think the war made the world a more dangerous place and only 12% think it made the world safer, 46% think it made no difference. People are even more negative on the war’s impact on Britain’s reputation in the world – over half (52%) think it has damaged our reputation and only 9% think it has improved our reputation.

But despite this view of this particular war, the majority of the public see a role for our armed forces abroad. When asked what is closest to their views, three in ten (31%) say our armed forces should intervene abroad when other people’s freedoms are threatened, 44% say we should intervene abroad only when British interests are threatened and only 21% say we should only intervene to defend British territory.

Managing Director of Ipsos MORI, Bobby Duffy, said:
“Over the ten years since the start of the Iraq war, we’ve seen public opinion shift significantly from initial support to clear opposition. There appears to have been some softening of this view among a minority, but there is still clear anger driven by a perception that the public were misled. People are also clear that this damaged our reputation around the world, more so than they believe that it improved ordinary Iraqis lives. Even given all these concerns, the public still see a key role for the armed forces abroad, although the emphasis is on doing so only when our direct interests are threatened.”

Professor of National Security Studies at King's College London, John Gearson, said:

"[The fact that] over 75 per cent of the public state the UK should intervene when UK interests are directly threatened or human rights are at stake suggests this is still not a country that believes it should be inward-looking and leave the world to sort itself out while the UK concerns itself with home defence." 

Technical note

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,009 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 9th – 11th March 2013. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. Where percentages do not sum to 100 this may be due to computer rounding, the exclusion of “don’t know” categories, or multiple answers. An asterisk (*) denotes any value of less than half a per cent.

More insights about Culture