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Public Support Slips for Ousting Saddam

23 August 2002

A thin majority of Americans still support sending ground troops to Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, but the size of that majority has dwindled to pre-Sept. 11 levels, a Gallup Poll finds.

Support for sending troops to Iraq has fallen from a high of 74% in November, when allied forces had al-Qaeda terrorists on the run, to 53% now, when the war on terror has shown little recent progress and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is still at large.

The slide comes amid escalating debate at home and abroad over the wisdom of a military offensive that could disrupt the flow of oil and other trade, turn Arab nations against the United States and further inflame Middle East tensions if Iraq attacked Israel, as it did in the Gulf War of 1991.

Several U.S. allies have warned against going to war with Iraq. In the poll, most of the Americans who support going to war want it to be with allied help.

Bush has said his goal in Iraq is "regime change." White House officials began talking tougher about using military force last fall, when three in four Americans backed the idea. Bush called Saddam "evil" and said his pursuit of "weapons of mass destruction" chemical, biological and nuclear weapons made him a threat to the world.

Since then, analysts inside and outside the government have suggested that an invasion could be costly in manpower and money, and Bush is finding the idea a harder sell to the public.

This week's poll results come at a time when allies of the United States expressed new qualms about attacking Iraq.

On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said his country's main aim is getting weapons inspectors back into the country, not removing Saddam.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov called an attack on Iraq "unacceptable" and said Saddam should not be ousted. Russia is discussing a 10-year trade agreement with Iraq.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reiterated his opposition to an attack but said his country's position was not hurting German-U.S. relations. "Friendship does not mean having the same opinion on every question," he said.

As critics grow louder, the fact that 53% "still support sending ground troops to Iraq is quite remarkable," says Karlyn Bowman, a polling analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

As far back as World War II, polls have found Americans reluctant to send soldiers into harm's way. But once the shooting begins, Americans initially rally around the flag. In the case of Iraq, the poll contains evidence of attitudes that could swing Americans toward support of a war:

86% believe Saddam is supporting terror groups planning to attack the USA; 53% believe he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

94% believe Saddam either has weapons of mass destruction or is developing them.

83% of those who say he has weapons of mass destruction believe he would use them to attack the United States.

The poll also finds that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to 65%, which is still healthy but is at its lowest level since before Sept. 11.

Richard Benedetto
Published in USA Today © Copyright 2002 USA Today

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