Iraq: Four Years Later

A U.S. army vehicle burns in an eastern suburb of Baghdad, Iraq, March 18, 2007 reportedly after having been attacked by insurgents. There was no official comment on the attack by U.S. officials. (AP Photo/ AP Television News, Pool) AP/APTN/Pool

After four years of war, Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for success in Iraq and a majority wants U.S. troops to begin coming home, according to an analysis of data from CBS News and CBS News/New York Times polls.

Americans did not expect the war to last this long, nor did they think it would cost as many lives as it has.

President Bush continues to receive low ratings on his handling of Iraq and most Americans now oppose his decision to send more troops there. Democrats, meanwhile, are challenging Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, winning House committee approval this week for a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008, but suffering defeat in the Senate on a separate plan to end the war.

More than half the public now believes the U.S. will not succeed in Iraq. A February poll found that just 20 percent think there's something the U.S. can do to stop the fighting between Iraqis, while 70 percent think there's not much the U.S. can do about it.

WILL THE U.S. SUCCEED IN IRAQ?

3/2007
Very likely
11%
Somewhat likely
34%
Not very/at all likely
53%

Nearly seven in ten Americans now say things are going badly for the U.S. in Iraq; just 29 percent say things are going well. That's a complete reversal from May 2003, two months into the war, when more than seven in 10 thought things in Iraq were going well. Assessments remained positive until shortly after Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. Since then, however, views have become gloomier.

The war has been longer and bloodier than Americans expected. At the start of the war, Americans thought it would be a short conflict with fewer than 1,000 fatalities. Since then, over 3,200 U.S. troops have died and more than 24,000 have been wounded.

Asked in March 2003 how many U.S. troops they thought would die in the war, 66 percent of Americans said less than 1,000. Just 22 percent thought more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers would be killed.

EXPECTATIONS FOR U.S. LOSS OF LIFE

3/20-3/24/2003
Less than 1,000
66%
1,000-5,000
16%
More than that
6%

Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have also been killed in the war, but precise figures are difficult to come by. Estimates range from more than 50,000 into the hundreds of thousands, the Associated Press says. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.

In April 2003, just weeks after the fall of Baghdad, seven in 10 Americans thought U.S. troops would be in Iraq for two years or less. Only 27 percent thought they'd be there longer than two years.

Now, Americans indicate they're ready for the troops to start coming home. Fifty-six percent want to decrease U.S. troop levels or remove all U.S. forces from Iraq. Nearly six in ten oppose President Bush's decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

U.S. TROOP LEVELS IN IRAQ SHOULD…

3/2007
Increase
22%
Keep the same number
17%
Decrease
28%
Remove all troops
28%

Americans give the president some leeway, however. More than half think it will take at six months to determine if the troop increase is working.

Despite the political arguments that have surrounded the troop and funding decisions, more than seven in ten Americans say one can oppose the war and still support U.S. troops.

The American people continue to give Mr. Bush low marks for his leadership on Iraq. His current approval rating is 28 percent; he has not reached the 30 percent mark since October 2006.

That's a far cry from April 2003, after the fall of Baghdad, when Mr. Bush enjoyed a high of 79 percent approval. But as U.S. troops continued to suffer casualties, even after the president's declaration that major combat had ended, more Americans began to disapprove of Mr. Bush's handling of the war. There was a brief surge in support following Saddam's capture, but more Americans have disapproved than approved of the president's handing of the war since March 2004.

Mr. Bush has also been hurt by the recent reports of shoddy treatment of veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Three in four Americans do not think the Bush administration has done enough to care for these wounded soldiers.
  • Joel Roberts

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