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Poll: Americans favor U.N. control of postwar Iraq

WASHINGTON—A majority of Americans expects at least a two-year U.S. occupation of Iraq once the war ends and favors having the United Nations administer the country until a new Iraqi government is formed, a new survey has found.

Most Americans, according to the poll, are also patient about the war's duration. By a 2-to-1 margin, those surveyed said U.S. forces should try to limit the number of civilian casualties in Iraq, even if that means the war must last longer.

The poll of 795 people was conducted over four days through last Tuesday, when Americans were absorbing the first few days of war news.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland wrote the questions, and Knowledge Networks, a market research firm, conducted the survey, which was to be released Monday.

Some 54 percent agreed with President Bush's decision to invade Iraq without U.N. authorization, while 23 percent opposed it. Some 21 percent disagreed with the decision but still supported Bush.

"We're seeing the traditional `rally 'round the president' factor at the beginning of a war, but confidence in the decision to go to war is not overwhelming," said Steven Kull, director of the Maryland program.

The public's views on the consequences of the U.S. invasion mix optimism over Iraq's postwar future with worry over the war's effect on the United States.

An overwhelming majority, 85 percent, agrees that when the war ends the United States has the responsibility to remain in Iraq until a stable government is established. Most think that will take at least two years.

By a 2-to-1 margin, most Americans predict a stable and democratic government in Iraq five years from now.

While most Americans support the war, 51 percent agreed that the risk of terrorist attacks against the United States will increase after the war. Half of those polled said anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world will grow.

"This shows some pessimism about the consequences of the war," said Kull, who has surveyed foreign policy attitudes for several years.

The poll also showed continued support for the United Nations and its involvement in solving problems around the world.

The United Nations "will continue to be relevant in matters of war and peace in the future," said 58 percent, while 37 percent said it will not be relevant. The Bush administration said the United Nations risked making itself irrelevant when the Security Council chose not to support using force against Iraq.

Once Saddam Hussein is toppled, 52 percent agreed that the United Nations should administer the country until an Iraqi government is established, while 44 percent favored direct U.S. rule or some combination of coalition and exile forces.

Large majorities also support letting the United Nations, and not the United States, take the lead role in trying to stop North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons or spreading terrorism.

By almost 3-to-1, those surveyed said the United States should not punish countries on the Security Council that refused to back the U.S. position on use of force.

Most Americans also seem to be cautious about using pre-emptive force, though they support it in Iraq. In this poll, 66 percent agreed that U.S. leaders "should not feel more free to use force without U.N. authorization."

This survey did not try to measure the public's tolerance for U.S. casualties in the Iraq war, though a February survey found that Americans expected "significant casualties," defined as 1,000 or more service men and women killed.

"Concern over casualties is not a driving factor, as long as the public sees the goals of the war as valid and legitimate and that progress is being made," Kull said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.