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Monday, June 30

Attacks, weapons controversy eroding public confidence

By Richard Benedetto | GNS

WASHINGTON - The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the recent spate of deadly attacks on U.S. troops there is sharply eroding public confidence in the war effort, a USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Poll shows.

But most of the public still has confidence in President Bush's leadership and character, although there is some slippage there as well.

Basically all measures on public attitudes toward the situation in Iraq are down:

- 56 percent say Iraq was worth going to war over, down from 73 percent in April, shortly after the Saddam Hussein statue was toppled in Baghdad.

- 53 percent are confident that weapons of mass destruction will be found there, down sharply from 84 percent in late March, when combat was at its peak.

- 48 percent are confident that Saddam will be captured or killed, down from 70 percent in March.

The June 27-29 poll of 1,003 adults has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A month ago, seven of 10 people said things were going well for the United States in Iraq. Now, as reports of civil unrest in Iraq dominate the news, little more than five of 10 say things are going well.

Analysts say the findings suggest that if the search for weapons drags on for months without success, the U.S. death toll continues to mount and Saddam is not found, critics' voices will grow louder. Public calls for a pullout could mount and Bush could find himself in deep political trouble as he heads toward a re-election campaign next year.

``This bears the seeds for potential problems for the president down the road,'' said Mark Rozell, a Catholic University of America political scientist.

But for all the negative news out of Iraq and the growing public unease over the rising death toll, the public shows few signs of clamoring for troops to pull out of the country:

- 69 percent still say it is worth having U.S. troops in Iraq now.

- 74 percent say the number of U.S. deaths since major combat ended two months ago is to be expected.

- And 55 percent say the United States will eventually stop the attacks on its soldiers.

At the same time, Bush's credibility is still high. Six of 10 continue to say the Bush administration did not deliberately mislead them about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

And 63 percent say the administration did a good job planning for managing Iraq after the war.

``We are a nation that wants to continue to support its troops. But people are starting to understand that this will take more time and more loss of life than they first expected,'' said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster.

Bush himself has not been immune from the public unease about Iraq. His overall job rating has been on a slow but steady decline from a recent high of 71 percent, shortly after U.S. troops captured Baghdad, to 61 percent now. Although that is still a solid rating, he also has seen some deterioration in the assessments of his personal character.

But while his personal numbers are all lower than they were at the height of the combat in Iraq, the president continues to be viewed by most Americans as honest and trustworthy, a strong, decisive leader, a person they admire and one who cares about people like them.

The June 27-29 poll of 1,003 adults has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.