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Poll: Vast majority believes Iraq mission not accomplished

U.S. marks third anniversary since 'Mission Accomplished' speech



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George W. Bush
Saddam Hussein

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three years after President Bush declared major combat over in Iraq, Americans have strong doubts that the United States will fulfill the promise of his "Mission Accomplished" backdrop, a poll released Monday found.

The CNN poll, conducted April 21-23 by Opinion Research Corporation, found that only 9 percent thought the U.S. mission in Iraq had been accomplished, while 40 percent believed it would be complete someday.

An additional 44 percent said the United States would never accomplish its goals in Iraq, where American troops are still battling insurgents three years after the invasion that toppled former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. (Watch how those polled want to redefine Iraq objectives -- 1:37)

The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

'Tough days ahead'

On Monday, Bush received a briefing from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who returned from surprise trips to Iraq last week. They were joined by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In statements after the meeting, Bush pointed to the formation of a new Iraqi government as "a turning point for the Iraqi citizens" and "a new chapter in our partnership," but emphasized that the Iraqis still face many challenges as they move toward democracy, a far cry from the triumphant tone the president struck three years ago. (Watch: President Bush says Iraq is entering "a new chapter" -- 3:15)

"There's going to be more tough days ahead. These secretaries know that. They're realistic people," Bush said. "But this government is more determined than ever to succeed, and we believe we've got partners to help the Iraqi people realize their dreams."

'Mission Accomplished'

Bush's May 1, 2003, victory speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was a carefully managed piece of political theater, from his flight suit-clad arrival aboard an S-3 Viking antisubmarine jet to the "Mission Accomplished" banner that hung from the carrier's bridge.

"My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed, and now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country," Bush said.

Bush had argued the invasion was necessary because Iraq had been concealing chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and a nuclear weapons program from U.N. inspectors and could have provided those weapons to terrorists.

"The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding," Bush said. "And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more."

U.S. inspectors later concluded that Iraq had dismantled its weapons programs while under U.N. sanctions that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War, though Iraqi scientists had tried to conceal some weapons-related research from the United Nations.

Declining support

Public support for the war has dropped considerably in the past year, with 55 percent telling pollsters in the same survey that they believed the United States made a mistake by invading Iraq. That discontent has contributed to a slump in Bush's approval rating, which dropped to 32 percent in the CNN poll.

When Bush delivered the speech aboard the Lincoln, 139 U.S. troops had been killed in Iraq. On its third anniversary, the U.S. death toll is nearly 2,400.

Five months after his speech, with U.S. casualties in Iraq growing and the insurgency against American forces building strength, Bush said the "Mission Accomplished" sign had been put up by the ship's crew. But the White House later conceded that it produced and paid for the banner as part of the president's visit.

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