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Thursday, April 17

Americans split on what defines war victory

By Richard Benedetto | GNS

WASHINGTON - Americans are somewhat split over whether the war in Iraq can be considered a victory if Saddam Hussein is not killed or captured, a new USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Poll shows.

Overall, 55 percent say it would be a victory even without evidence of Saddam's demise; 42 percent say it would not.

But the 55 percent is a gain of 5 percentage points in the past week, which analysts say suggests a trend.

"My sense is that it will continue to swing upward as Saddam's absence from the scene becomes more apparent and the assumption that he is dead grows," said Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist.

The finding comes one day after President Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card said in a chat on the White House Web site that he believes Saddam is dead.

"The good news is that his regime is no longer a threat to the people of Iraq, nor to the U.S. or our allies," Card wrote Wednesday in response to a question sent in by a member of the public.

Saddam's fate, then, seems less important to the American public than that of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who also is at large.

When asked last July, 50 percent of Americans said the U.S. military action in Afghanistan to break up the al-Qaida terrorist network would not be a success without bin Laden's capture; 38 percent said it would.

"Osama bin Laden being at large is much more troubling to Americans. He is seen as a much more sinister figure than Saddam in his ability to inflict direct damage on the United States," Baker said.

As the war in Iraq winds down and reporting turns to civil disorder there, 73 percent of Americans still say it was worth the effort.

That's a slight drop from 76 percent one week ago as television was showing the giant statue of Saddam being toppled in Baghdad. But it is well above the 53 percent recorded in January, two months before the war began.As the Persian Gulf War was winding down 12 years ago, 71 percent said it was worth the effort.

But with most of the fighting limited to minor skirmishes, Americans remain wary. Two-thirds do not believe the war is over and one-fourth still expect some major battles to be fought.

Yet, 60 percent say the war is going very well; 32 percent say moderately well.

The April 14-16 poll of 1,011 adults has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.