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Poll: Americans Come Full Circle On Iraq

Six years after the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, American optimism about the situation in Iraq has returned to levels last seen in 2003, according to a new CBS News poll.

Still, most Americans continue to believe the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq in the first place. And Americans are now far more pessimistic about the situation in Afghanistan than they are the war in Iraq.

Sixty-four percent of Americans now say U.S. efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq are going at least somewhat well. That's the highest percentage since December 2003, shortly after the U.S. capture of Saddam Hussein.

Just one year ago, only 43 percent described things in Iraq as going well. In June 2007, the percentage who said as much was just 22 percent. Americans began feeling more positive about the situation in Iraq last fall.

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Despite the increased optimism, more than half of those surveyed – 55 percent – maintain the U.S. should not have entered the country.

Four in ten Americans now say the U.S. did the right thing in entering Iraq. Back in March 2003 – right after the initial invasion of Iraq – seven in 10 Americans said the U.S. did the right thing in entering the country.

As has been the case throughout the war, Republicans think the U.S. did the right thing, while Democrats believe the military action was a mistake.

Asked what the U.S. should have done about Iraq, just 29 percent say the U.S. strategy of removing Saddam and rebuilding Iraq was the best plan. A nearly identical percentage – 28 percent – say the U.S. should have removed the Iraqi leader and then left; another 40 percent say the U.S. should not have gotten involved at all.

Assessments of how President Obama is handling the war have risen since last month. Sixty-one percent now approve of the president's handling of Iraq, an increase of seven points from February. Twenty-three percent disapprove, while 16 percent don't know.

In a CBS News/New York Times poll last month, 46 percent of those surveyed said it is "very important" that the U.S. leave Iraq within 16 months. Thirty-two percent said it is "somewhat important" while 18 percent said it was not too important or not important at all.

The War In Afghanistan:

Just 33 percent of Americans now say things are going well for the U.S. in Afghanistan, while 57 percent say they are going badly.

Though this is a slightly more optimistic outlook than in December, when just 27 percent said things were going well in Afghanistan, it still reflects widespread pessimism compared to perceptions at the start of the war.

In October 2001, when the war began, 83 percent of Americans said things were going well for the U.S. in Afghanistan. That percentage reached its high of 93 percent in December of that year, and it stood at 73 percent in March 2003.

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This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1142 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone March 12-16, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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