WASHINGTON - Eight in 10 Americans believe that recent sectarian violence in Iraq has made civil war likely, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Monday.
The parliamentary elections in December had produced a sharp gain in public optimism that the United States was making progress in Iraq, but the slide toward civil war has erased those gains just as quickly, ABC said.
More than seven in 10 Republicans and eight in 10 Democrats and political independents believe civil war is coming, showing that the public's assessment of the situation cuts across party lines, the Washington Post said.
About one third of Americans polled thought such a conflict was "very likely" to occur, the newspaper said.
The surge in violence has killed more than 500 people since the destruction of a major Shi'ite shrine in Samarra on February 22.
Fifty-five percent of poll respondents said the United States was not making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq -- up 19 points from a poll shortly after the December elections.
Nearly half, or 49 percent, said they thought there has been progress in establishing a democratic government in Iraq. But that was down from 65 percent in December.
Nearly three months after Iraqis elected a parliament, Iraq's political leaders are still fighting over the post of prime minister, delaying the formation of a grand coalition government, which Washington promoted in the hope of fostering stability and allowing U.S. troops to begin withdrawing.
According to the poll, a record 65 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration lacks a clear plan for what to do in Iraq.
Despite the bleak views of the situation in Iraq, fewer than 20 percent of respondents support an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops, while a narrow majority, 52 percent, supported decreasing troop strength.
Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they disapprove of the way President George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, compared to 40 percent approval -- nearly unchanged from the same poll's numbers in late January.
Bush's overall job approval rating was steady at 41 percent, unchanged, but two points above his career low in a poll last fall.
The telephone poll of 1,000 people was conducted March 2-5 and has a three point error margin.
© Reuters 2006