U.S. Approval of Bush Iraq Policy Drops

By WILL LESTER
The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 2:59 AM

WASHINGTON -- Americans' approval of President Bush's handling of Iraq has dropped to the lowest level ever, increasing the pressure on the commander in chief to find a way out after nearly four years of war.

The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found just 31 percent approval on his handling of Iraq, days after voters registered their displeasure at the polls by defeating Republicans across the board and handing control of Congress to the Democrats. The previous low in AP-Ipsos polling was 33 percent in both June and August.

Erosion of support for Bush's Iraq policy was most pronounced among conservatives and Republican men _ critical supporters who propelled Bush to the White House and a second term in 2004. A month ago, approval of the president on the issue certain to define his presidency was 36 percent.

"I'm completely frustrated," Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., said this week during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Hayes' district includes part of Fort Bragg, and he supports the U.S. effort but favors pushing Iraqi troops to take more responsibility for the fighting.

Bush's low numbers underscore the high expectations for the report by the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and one-time Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. The demand for an exit strategy comes as the number of U.S. dead from the conflict exceeds 2,850.

Violence in Iraq, much of it between religious sects, continues unabated. Dozens of employees at Iraq's Higher Education Ministry were kidnapped this week and some were reportedly tortured before they were released; bombings and shootings claim Iraqi lives daily.

"Hopefully the Baker-Hamilton commission can offer a face-saving measure for the White House that can put the beginning of the end in sight," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who is in line to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Two options under discussion _ greater cooperation with Iran and Syria, and a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops _ would require a major policy shift by the Bush administration

Almost by default, the poll showed Bush approval on handling the economy his strongest issue _ at 43 percent, according to the poll of 1,000 adults taken Monday through Wednesday.

The poll, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, also found:

_34 percent think the country is headed in the right direction; Democrats are more optimistic while Republicans are more pessimistic since the election.

_36 percent approve of the job being done by the president; this is close to the results in early October.


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