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Americans Wary of Action on Iran, Gloomy on Iraq, Poll Shows
By Janine Zacharia
April 13, 2006

April 13 (Bloomberg) -- American pessimism about the Iraq war has deepened and may be feeding doubts about President George W. Bush's efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions, the latest Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll found.

A majority of those surveyed -- 56 percent -- said Iraq is now in a civil war, and just 37 percent said they believe Bush when he says a lot of progress is being made there, down from 45 percent who said they believed him in January.

Forty-eight percent said they would support military action against Iran if it continues to produce material that can be used to develop a nuclear bomb, down from 57 percent in January. Forty percent oppose military action, up from 33 percent in January.

A majority -- 54 percent -- said they ``don't trust'' Bush to make the right decision about whether the U.S. should go to war with Iran, compared with 42 percent who said they do trust him. Forty percent said the Iraq experience had made them less supportive of military action against Iran, while 38 percent said it had no impact. The poll surveyed 1,357 American adults by telephone April 8-11 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Analysts said negative perceptions of the war in Iraq are driving sentiment on Iran. ``The Iraq experience is very sobering; it tells people that the military solution that looks so easy can be an illusion,'' said Joseph Cirincione, director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

``I expect those numbers to go down,'' Cirincione said of the support for an Iran strike. ``The more war with Iran is discussed, the lower the numbers will be.''

Iran Views Influenced

Michael O'Hanlon, an analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has studied U.S. strategy in Iraq, said Americans' disillusionment with Bush's handling of the war has influenced their thinking on Iran.

``Three or four years ago, the American public might have had such overwhelming confidence in the U.S. military and the Bush administration that it would have essentially taken their word that they could execute a strike effectively, and that it would be worth the overall cost,'' O'Hanlon said.

``While the military remains well-regarded, we are also more painfully aware of the limits of its capabilities in certain situations,'' he said.

The prospect of a military strike on Iran jumped into the headlines after an April 8 article in the New Yorker magazine reported the U.S. is weighing air attacks on suspected weapons facilities in that country.

Bush dismissed the story as ``wild speculation.'' Several experts on the region say U.S. strikes couldn't be certain of complete success -- and might send oil prices soaring while sparking widespread terrorist retaliation or an Iranian counterstrike on Israel.

Iranian Response

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that Iran was in the ``nuclear club'' and would accelerate uranium enrichment to reach ``industrial scale-production.'' He rejected a United Nations Security Council demand for suspension of the program by the end of the month.

Iran insists its nuclear program is purely to generate electricity, while the U.S. says it is aimed at making a bomb. Iran used 164 centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, Iranian officials said earlier this week. Yesterday, the country's deputy nuclear chief, Mohammad Saeedi, said Iran will install 3,000 centrifuges this year as part of a plan to eventually expand the program to 54,000 such devices.

It takes about 1,000 centrifuges working non-stop for a year to enrich enough uranium for a single bomb, according to the UN's nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

``While some believe that Iran's claims are credible, others speculated that Iran made the announcement to send a message that military strikes or sanctions would not deter Iran from achieving a full nuclear cycle,'' said Anthony Cordesman, a specialist on military affairs and the Middle East at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Doubts About Centrifuges

Cordesman said ``the Iranian claims also said nothing about how efficient the claimed use of a small 164-centrifuge chain was, what its life cycle and reliability was, and about the ability to engineer a system that could approach weapons-grade material.''

Crude oil climbed on Monday to the highest level since shortly after Hurricane Katrina last year on concern supplies from Iran could be disrupted by a confrontation over the country's nuclear program.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the Iranian announcement on uranium enrichment ``is going to further isolate Iran'' and urged the Security Council to take action.

Disillusionment on Iraq

While U.S. policy makers grapple with the Iranian nuclear problem, they also face an intensifying insurgency in Iraq aimed at destabilizing the government and driving out foreign forces.

As many as 38,164 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Iraqbodycount.net, a research group based in the U.K., said on its Web site yesterday. The daily rate of civilian deaths increased to 36 in the third year of the occupation from 20 in the first, the group said in a press released on March 9.

As of Monday, there have been 2,360 U.S. military deaths, including Defense Department civilian contractors, since the invasion began, according to a Pentagon tally.

The Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll found mounting skepticism about the Iraqi conflict, with 38 percent of Americans saying it was worth fighting compared to 58 percent who said it was not. Seventy-four percent said the situation would worsen or remain the same over the next year while 23 percent thought it would improve.

Americans are split on establishing a deadline for pulling out of Iraq, with 45 percent saying Bush should set a date for withdrawal of all U.S. troops while he is still in office while 49 percent said he should not, a statistically insignificant difference.

Thirty-six percent of respondents said they believed Iraq likely could maintain a democratic government after the U.S. and its allies left, while 52 percent said it was unlikely they'd be able to do so.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Janine Zacharia in Washington at  jzacharia@bloomberg.net.

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