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U.S.: Public Opinion On Iraq Split As Bush Prepares New Plan

  • Heather Maher --> U.S. public opinion has been steadily turning against the war in Iraq in recent months (epa) GAITHERSBURG, Maryland; January 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Technology, computer, and telecommunications companies line the highways of this city of 50,000 some 32 kilometers north of Washington, D.C.

Gaithersburg is also home to a Maryland National Guard recruiting and training center. So many military families with relatives in Iraq live nearby.

On the eve of U.S. President George W. Bush's prime-time speech to the nation, in which he is expected to set out his plan to temporarily add 20,000 U.S. troops to the force of 132,000 already serving in Iraq, locals in Gaithersburg are thinking a lot about the war.

In a recent poll, 55 percent of respondents said they didn't believe more troops would help the violent and unstable situation in Baghdad.

And there are stark divisions of opinion. Some locals disapprove of the war altogether, while others say a troop increase wouldn't make any difference. A third group said they are willing to support the so-called surge in troops -- as long as it helped Iraq and sped the return home of U.S. service personnel.

'The Most Stupid Thing We Could Have Done'

Joseph, a pensioner who on January 9 was stopping to pick up his medication at a local pharmacy, is one of those who disapproves of the war in Iraq entirely. He said he voted for Bush once before but now is "very sorry" that he did.

"I was never in favor of the attacking of Iraq," he said. "We had no reason to attack them. It was the most stupid thing we could have done. I think the faster we pull out the better off we'll be."

George, a businessman shopping at a bookstore on his lunch hour, said he didn't think more troops would help -- and added that, like a growing number of Americans, he sees a parallel with the U.S. engagement in Vietnam.

"I feel [a surge] won't make a difference," George said. "I feel it's very similar to Vietnam, where we piled in troops and then the death toll just went higher. So I believe that it won't make any difference, the war is lost. The war was lost when they had no exit strategy. The first Bush [former President George Bush] was right [during the 1990-91 Gulf War]: go partially in and get out immediately."

Greg, who was working behind the counter of a local hardware store, said he wished the war was over so U.S. troops could come home. He said he supported the invasion in 2003, because it was aimed at "getting rid of the tyrant" -- former Iraq leader Saddam Hussein.

'If That's The Way It's Got To Be...'

Now he says he supports a troop increase if that's what Bush thinks what is needed to end the war.

"Whatever they've got to do to get the guys back over here, safely," Greg said. "If we need more, yeah, unfortunately. If that's the way it's got to be, that's the way it's got to be."

A woman named Felicia waiting at a bus stop said she would prefer that Bush send economic aid to provide Iraqis with jobs, rather than sending more troops. But she added that if more soldiers would help turn the tide, she could support it.

"If it would work, I would agree with it," Felicia said. "But I don't know whether it will work or not. I really think we should stay there until we, well, you know, pacify the place because we broke it. We've got to fix it. But I don't think there's much sense in sending more people over there to die."

Divided Nation

The latest national poll data shows Americans evenly divided on Bush's proposal.

A Bush supporter demonstrates outside the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport Maine in August 2006 (AFP)

A CBS News poll of 1,000 people conducted the first three days of January found 45 percent of Americans in favor of more troops and 48 percent opposed.

However, a majority, 55 percent, said they didn't believe more troops would help the violent and unstable situation in Baghdad. Thirty-five percent said they thought it would.

More than half -- 52 percent -- say they did not believe Iraq would become a stable democracy, with or without U.S. help. Just 17 percent thought the United States was winning the war.

As to how Bush is handling Iraq, 23 percent approved and 72 percent disapproved of his performance.

That disapproval was most strongly voiced in Gaithersburg by a man named Robert.

"I don't agree with any of his policies," he said. "I don't think we should have been there in the first place. I never watch any of his speeches. I don't think the man has anything to say and I don't think he has a good command of the English language."

On The Verge Of Civil War

The Imam Al-Mahdi Army on parade (epa)

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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.