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Americans think Iraq war justified, but doubt cause

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: May 22, 2003

Americans are fairly certain the use of military force in Iraq was the right thing to do, but they are considerably less confident that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction before the war began.

A survey of 1,010 people by Scripps Howard New Service and Ohio University also found overwhelming confidence that Saddam is still alive somewhere. The nation has a widespread expectation that U.S. troops must remain in Iraq for at least a year.

Worries over terrorism and Middle East unrest have diminished substantially from early polls as most Americans report domestic issues such as the economy, education and health care as their top concerns. Even so, nearly two-thirds of the people surveyed said they believe the United States "basically is headed in the right direction" and 64 percent say they approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president, up 10 points from his approval rating four months ago.

The survey examined post-war public opinion in several ways, looking for signs of cynicism about why the war was fought and examining any political fallout for President Bush who pushed hard for Saddam's ouster despite vehement opposition from Russia, France and Germany.

Forty-one percent of the people in the poll said they are "absolutely certain" the United States did the right thing in sending "troops into Iraq to force it to disarm its weapons of mass destruction." Another 25 percent were "pretty certain" while 31 percent were "not certain."

Support for the war has risen dramatically from mid January, shortly before combat began, when nearly half of those polled in a similar survey expressed doubts that the United States was on a correct path.

But there is less certainty that "Iraq had weapons of mass destruction immediately before the United States began the war." Slightly less than a third said they are "absolutely certain" that the official reason for U.S. military involvement was true.

There is also considerable doubt over whether this latest use of American military force will be an important historic event. Fifty-one percent answered "no" when asked if "this war will go down in American history as a major conflict?"

Nearly three-quarters of the people polled said they believe Saddam Hussein is still alive, despite multiple attempts by bomber crews to attack sites in Baghdad where top Baath Party officials were believed to be meeting during the war.

Only a quarter of the people in the survey said they believe it will be six months or less before "the United States will be able to pull most of its troops out of Iraq." Nearly half said they fear the military will be required for "more than a year."

The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone May 4-18 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey.

Further details of the poll and the operations of the Scripps Survey Research Center can be found at www.newspolls.org.