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US public's support of Iraq war sliding faster now

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Mr. Fraser did not vote for Bush in either election. But on the eve of the Iraq war, he found himself cautiously optimistic that the invasion would take care of a troubled situation left unresolved from Operation Desert Storm. And Colin Powell's presentation before the United Nations stirred up anxieties lingering from 9/11, he said in a phone interview.

"The absence of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] was the first chink in the armor," says Fraser. "Once you start to question that, then you begin to question other things, like was Al Qaeda sitting at the right arm of Saddam Hussein? You just began to wonder, is everything you're hearing the truth?"

Failure to find WMDs also affected Frank Hilts, a retired cop from Stone Mountain, Ga. Early in the war Mr. Hilts believed that invading Iraq not only was morally right, but also that it was crucial for national security and the war on terror.

After it became clear that no major caches of WMDs would be found in Iraq, Hilts, an independent who voted for Bush in 2000, went from cautious support to outright calls for impeachment, for shielding the "real" reasons for going to war as well as for mishandling the operation.

The view that the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about WMDs has become more pervasive over the course of the war and is now held by 54 percent of the public, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll this month.

"It isn't really our war anymore," says Hilts, adding that Americans are now stuck refereeing a civil war.

Good news from Iraq has boosted support for the war at different junctures – although temporarily. The capture of Mr. Hussein, elections, and the killing of the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, all caused spikes in war support.

The spikes, say analysts, represent public reevaluation of either the costs or the benefits of the war, or both. Support rose after the first Iraqi election in January 2005. Voter turnout exceeded expectations, boosting Americans' optimism about the prospects for democracy in Iraq.

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