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In US, uneasy ambivalence about Iraq

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Two years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Americans have settled into an uneasy ambivalence about the war.

The protracted military campaign has cost 1,519 American lives, thousands of nonfatal casualties, and more than $200 billion in emergency spending. And with the heavy use of National Guard and reserve forces - many of them police, firefighters, and other first responders - virtually every community has somebody in Iraq or headed there.

Yet the public, for the moment, seems to have moved on to Social Security, domestic shootouts, pop star Michael Jackson, and the price of gasoline. Even the antiwar movement is less vocal these days about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction or allegations of ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

For one thing, says political scientist John Allen Williams of Loyola University Chicago, "President Bush has succeeded in changing the terms of the engagement in saying that it's about democracy."

And signs of democracy have indeed appeared. Americans saw the enthusiasm that many Iraqis took to the voting booths earlier this year, as well as democratic stirrings in the region from Egypt to Lebanon.

Still, many Americans, when asked, express uneasiness with - if not opposition to - the war. As reported this week in a Washington Post-ABC News Poll, 53 percent of Americans feel the war was not worth fighting, 57 percent say they disapprove of the Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq, and 70 percent think the number of US casualties is an unacceptable price to have paid. A plurality of Americans (41 percent) also believe the war has damaged this country's standing abroad, particularly as they see much of the "coalition of the willing" heading home from Iraq, leaving Americans to carry more and more of the burden there.

This is far different from when US forces charged from Kuwait toward Baghdad two years ago. Then, 75 percent approved of Bush's handling of Iraq and 70 percent thought the war was worth fighting. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans saying the number of US military casualties is unacceptable has doubled.


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