Public's support for Iraq war continues to slide, survey shows

Nearly 70 percent say decision for war based on flawed assumptions

August 21, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

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

In a finding that mirrors other recent polling, 49 percent said the decision to go to war was wrong, compared with 46 percent who said the administration was right, according to the survey by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes and by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif.

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

The nationwide poll of 733 people was conducted Aug. 5 to 11. The margin of error was 3.7 percentage points.

The survey found that 80 percent of Americans perceived that the administration is still claiming, as it did before the war, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or a program to develop such weapons.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released last month 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 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 believed the administration is continuing to assert that Iraq was "working closely" with al-Qaida. The Sept. 11 commission's report released last month concluded that although 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 weapons 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 [weapons of mass destruction] 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 last month found that 50 percent considered 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 an even split on whether the war was right or wrong, with 47 percent on each side.

The administration has sought to make the Iraq conflict part of the U.S. war on terrorism, but a majority in the most recent 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 Hussein was the better use of U.S. forces.

The public has also become more pessimistic about the war and its consequences. Nearly 70 percent said the war has worsened the United States' image around the world, and 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 that the U.S. mission would succeed.

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