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Poll finds growing opposition to Iraq war

WASHINGTON—Americans' opposition to the Iraq war continues to grow, with 69 percent of the public now saying that the Bush administration launched the war based on incorrect assumptions, according to a survey released Friday.

In a finding that tracks other recent polling, half the public (49 percent) now says the decision to go to war was wrong, compared to 46 percent who say the administration was right, according to the survey for the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

A year ago, 63 percent said the decision to go to war was correct.

The nationwide poll of 733 people was conducted Aug. 5-11 by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percent.

The survey found that a large majority (80 percent) of Americans perceives that the administration is still claiming, as it did before the war, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or a major WMD program.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report in July concluded that U.S. intelligence misjudged the Iraqi threat, and that Iraq had only limited nuclear, biological or chemical weapons programs before the war. No evidence of such weapons has yet been discovered.

Bush officials now say the war was justified because Iraq was capable of developing such weapons, and they stress another reason—freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship.

The poll found that 55 percent believe the administration is continuing to assert that Iraq was "working closely" with the al-Qaida terrorist network. The Sept. 11 Commission report last month concluded that while there had been contacts between Iraqi officials and al-Qaida members, Iraq didn't give al-Qaida substantial support.

Public acceptance of the administration's twin claims about Iraqi WMD and Iraq's close cooperation with al-Qaida has dropped to about half of those polled.

"Though the public hears the Bush administration still saying that Iraq had WMD and gave substantial support to al-Qaida, since the 9-11 Commission and Senate Intelligence reports, more Americans have doubts, and support for the decision to go to war has eroded," said Steven Kull, the director of the program at the University of Maryland.

Other polls this summer have found a similar erosion of support for the Iraq war. A Gallup poll in July found that 50 percent consider the war a mistake, and an Associated Press/Ipsos poll this week found that 53 percent said the war was a mistake.

A Time magazine survey this month found a 47-47 percent split on whether the war was right or wrong.

The administration has sought to make the Iraq conflict a part of the U.S. war on terrorism, but a majority in the PIPA poll saw a distinction.

Asked about the use of U.S. resources, 52 percent said it would have been better to put a higher priority on pursuing al-Qaida and stabilizing Afghanistan, while 39 percent said invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam was the better use of U.S. forces.

The public also has become more pessimistic about the war and its consequences. A strong majority (69 percent) said the war has made the U.S. image in the world worse, and half (49 percent) said U.S. involvement in Iraq is creating more terrorists.

As for the prospects for Iraq, 46 percent said they weren't confident the U.S. mission would succeed, and 51 percent think a majority of Iraqis want U.S. forces to leave.

Those two factors, more than U.S. casualties, were driving opposition to the war, Kull said. Asked about U.S. troop strength, 29 percent wanted to decrease it, 26 percent wanted to maintain current levels, 18 percent backed an increase and 24 percent wanted a complete withdrawal.

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For more on the poll, go to

http://www.pipa.org/

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040820 USIRAQ POLL

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