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Nearly half of Iraqis support attacks on U.S. troops, poll finds

WASHINGTON—A new poll found that nearly half of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, and most favor setting a timetable for American troops to leave.

The poll also found that 80 percent of Iraqis think the United States plans to maintain permanent bases in the country even if the newly elected Iraqi government asks American forces to leave. Researchers found a link between support for attacks and the belief among Iraqis that the United States intends to keep a permanent military presence in the country.

At the same time, the poll found that many Iraqis think that some outside military forces are required to keep Iraq stable until the new government can field adequate security forces on its own. Only 39 percent of Iraqis surveyed thought that Iraqi police and army forces were strong enough to deal with the security challenges on their own, while 59 percent thought Iraq still needed the help of military forces from other countries.

Seventy percent of Iraqis favor setting a timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw, with half of those favoring a withdrawal within six months and the other half favoring a withdrawal over two years.

"Iraqis are demanding a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, and most believe that the U.S. has no plans to leave even if the new government asks them to," said Steven Kull, the director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, which conducted the poll. "This appears to be leading some to even support attacks on U.S.-led troops, even though many feel they also continue to need the presence of U.S. troops awhile longer."

"If you put it all together, it's clear there is a center of gravity, not towards immediate withdrawal, but for the U.S. to be there in a way that affirms their intent to withdraw eventually," he said. "There is real consensus on that point."

The poll was to be published Tuesday by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a Web site that reports on public opinion from around the globe. The survey was conducted Jan. 2-5, with a nationwide sample of 1,150 Iraqis from country's main religious and ethnic sects.

According to the poll's findings, 47 percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on American forces, but there were large differences among ethnic and religious groups. Among Sunni Muslims, 88 percent said they approved of the attacks. That approval was found among 41 percent of Shiite Muslims and 16 percent of Kurds.

Ninety-three percent of Iraqis oppose violence against Iraqi security forces, and 99 percent oppose attacks on Iraqi civilians.

"They're pretty much the same results that have been going on since 2003, so it's consistent with a lot of the attitudes that exist," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and a longtime Iraq watcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a center for national-security studies in Washington. "We're not seen as liberators by the Sunnis, but what else is new?"

Previous samples from Shiites who supported attacks on coalition troops have been much lower in the past, Cordesman said, but support for U.S.-led forces even among Shiites—who were oppressed under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni—has been mixed from the beginning.

"It was clear after the invasion that about a third or more of Shiites did not see us as liberators, and did not see the war as justified, and somewhere around 15 percent supported attacks on coalition forces then," he said. "We're also seen as creating all kinds of internal problems without creating any kind of internal solutions."

U.S. officials have acknowledged in the past that the mere presence of American troops in Iraq has helped fuel the insurgency, which is dominated by Iraq's Sunni minority. U.S. officials have sent mixed signals about long-term American intentions.

During a visit with U.S. troops in Fallujah on Christmas Day, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said "at the moment there are no plans for permanent bases" in Iraq. "It is a subject that has not even been discussed with the Iraqi government," he said.

According to the poll, 80 percent of Iraqis overall assume that the United States intends to keep bases in Iraq. The breakdown of people who have that belief is 92 percent of Sunnis, 79 percent of Shiites and 67 percent of Kurds.

More than 80 percent of Sunnis favor a six-month withdrawal period; 49 percent of Shiites favor a longer withdrawal. Just 29 percent of all Iraqis surveyed say U.S. forces should be reduced only as the security situation improves, though more than half of the Kurds surveyed favor that option.

The survey will be available at www.worldpublicopinion.org

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060130 USIRAQ POLL

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