Most American troops in Iraq believe that the US should withdraw within the next year, according to the first poll of US military personnel in Iraq.
President George W. Bush, whose overall approval rating fell to a new low of 34 per cent this week, has repeatedly said the US would finish the mission in Iraq. But a Zogby International/Le Moyne College poll found that only 23 per cent of US troops believed that they should stay “as long as they are needed”.
Seventy-two per cent of troops said the US should withdraw within 12 months; 29 per cent said they should pull out immediately.
Meanwhile a CBS News poll recorded another record low for the president this week: only 30 per cent of respondents approved of Mr Bush’s handling of Iraq.
John Zogby, the president of Zogby International, said US commanders in Iraq unofficially approved the poll of 944 respondents, which was conducted before the escalation in violence that followed last week’s bombing of the Golden Mosque.
Bryan Whitman, the deputy Pentagon spokesman, said the poll figures were “certainly not borne out in our recruiting and retention statistics”.
Mr Bush said on Tuesday that the Iraqi people and their leaders must choose between “a free society and evil people who kill innocents”.
“There are some who are trying to sow the seeds of sectarian violence,’’ he said following a meeting with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, who is withdrawing Italian troops from Iraq this year.
Ninety-three per cent of US troops polled said the removal of weapons of mass destruction was not the main US mission in Iraq. Instead, 68 per cent said the mission was actually the removal of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president.
Despite the fact that Mr Bush has acknowledged that Iraq played no role in the September 2001 attacks, 85 per cent of troops said the US mission was mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks”, a result that Mr Zogby described as “bewildering”.
While Mr Bush insists that progress is being made in Iraq, US intelligence and military officials frequently acknowledge that a full-scale civil war could erupt.
“I think we should take heart in the leaders who have come forward at this point but we’re also in a very tenuous situation right now,” Gen Michael Maples, the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
“I think that more violence, were it to occur, were it to be stimulated by al-Qaeda in Iraq, would have a very significant impact on the situation in Iraq.” He gave warning that political progress would not necessarily reduce the conflict. “Even moderate Sunni Arab leaders see violence as a complement to their political platforms,” he said.
A separate study on Tuesday from Globespan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 33 of 35 countries polled believe the war in Iraq has increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks around the world.
© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2006