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Poll: U.S. confidence in Iraq war slides

Bush prepares prime-time speech to mark year since handoff

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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

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Iraq
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A slim majority of Americans want to see the United States set a timetable for the removal of its troops from Iraq, according to a poll released Monday.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll also found that only 37 percent of those responding believe President Bush has a clear plan for the 2-year-old war there.

Forty-five percent of the 1,009 people questioned Friday through Sunday said they did not believe the United States ever would establish a stable government in Iraq, and 53 percent said they believe the war was a mistake.

Most questions in the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The latest numbers underscore a slide in public confidence that Bush will attempt to check with a prime-time speech on the conflict Tuesday night -- the first anniversary of the restoration of the nation's sovereignty by coalition officials.

Of those surveyed, 51 percent said they want the United States to set a timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq, and 44 percent said they would be willing to keep American forces there for several more years.

Last week, a bipartisan quartet of congressmen introduced a resolution that would call for Bush to submit a plan by year's end for an American pullout by the end of 2006.

But the president has said repeatedly that announcing any schedule for a withdrawal would allow insurgents to wait out U.S. troops.

"It is a critical moment in Iraq," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. "The terrorists are seeking to shake our will and weaken our resolve. They know that they cannot win unless we abandon the mission before it is complete."

But barely a third of those polled -- 34 percent -- said the United States is winning the conflict against a persistent insurgency; 14 percent said the insurgents were winning and 50 percent said neither side had the upper hand.

The president's own approval rating fell to 45 percent in the most recent poll, and 53 percent said they disapproved of his job performance -- the highest disapproval mark of his presidency to date. (Full story)

Just 40 percent said they approved of Bush's handling of the war, a figure unchanged from the last poll in late May, and 58 percent disapproved -- a 2-percentage-point increase.

Sixty-one percent said they believed Bush had no clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq, compared to 37 percent who said he did. The last time the question was posed, in January, the margin was nearly even.

Fifty-three percent of those polled said they believe the March 2003 invasion was a mistake, and 46 percent said they believe launching the war was the right thing to do.

Only 43 percent said they believed the war in Iraq has made Americans safer from terrorism, and 46 percent said it had made the country less safe. That question had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

While only 6 percent of those polled said that establishing a secure government was not important to the United States, 49 percent said the United States would be able to accomplish that goal.

Of those who said they believe the United States could succeed in stabilizing Iraq, only 19 percent said they believed the task could be accomplished in two to three years.

Another 28 percent said it would take more than three years -- essentially, the remainder of Bush's second term.

More than 1,730 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the invasion.

Top Bush administration officials argued the invasion was necessary because Saddam was harboring weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions and could have given those weapons to terrorists.

U.S. investigators later concluded that Iraq's weapons programs had been dormant for several years, although Baghdad had concealed some weapons-related research from U.N. inspectors.

The object of U.S. forces now is "to create an environment where the Iraqis themselves can contain and ultimately defeat this insurgency," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday.

"A democratic Iraq will be a source of peace for our children and grandchildren," Bush said in his radio address Saturday. (Full story)

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