Poll: U.S. Backing for Troops Steadfast

The Associated Press
Friday, June 9, 2006; 5:11 AM

WASHINGTON -- The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that many Americans perceive the alleged atrocities against Iraqi civilians by U.S. forces as isolated incidents while saying the U.S.-led invasion was a mistake, an unusual disconnect that sets this conflict apart from Vietnam.

The survey of 1,003 adults was completed Wednesday, shortly before the announcement that U.S. airstrikes had killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, and the Iraqi parliament's approval of candidates for ministers in charge of the army and police.

It remains to be seen how those events could affect opinion, especially among a public paying close attention to war dispatches.

Some 76 percent of those questioned said they were following reports about allegations that U.S. troops killed unarmed Iraqi civilians.

The military is investigating reports that a small number of Marines murdered 24 Iraqi civilians _ including unarmed women and children _ in the town of Haditha on Nov. 19. It also is conducting a probe of an incident in Hamdaniya following allegations that Marines pulled an unarmed Iraqi man from his home on April 26 and shot him to death without provocation.

Regardless of whether the allegations turn out to be true, 63 percent of those surveyed said they thought the killings of civilians were isolated incidents. That view was especially true among Americans over 35, whites and those living in the South, where the military has a strong presence.

"I think they're doing everything possible to avoid such things," said Christine Berchelmann, a retired nurse and Republican-leaning independent from San Antonio. "The people they are seeking out, they are in dwellings right in the middle of all these civilians. There are always going to be casualties."

Sixty-one percent in the survey said the military is doing all it can to avoid killing Iraqi civilians.

While the AP poll found that most Americans are willing to give U.S. troops the benefit of the doubt, their misgivings about the war and the prospect of Iraq establishing a stable, democratic government are growing.

Fifty-nine percent said the United States made a mistake in going to war, a new high and a significant jump from the 34 percent in December 2004.

"The biggest mistake was going into Iraq," said David Smith, 38, a salesman from Springfield, Mo., and Democrat who leans independent. "If hindsight was 20-20, they should have thought about the repercussions."

Despite President Bush's pronouncements about Iraq setting up a viable government, only 44 percent of those polled said it was likely they would see a stable government in Baghdad. It was a new low in the survey.

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