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Conflict With Iraq

Iraq's Possible Links to Terrorists

An overwhelming majority believes the Iraqi government is actively involved in supporting terrorists, though the public seems unsure if it is connected to the September 11 attacks. Iraq's possible links to terrorism and September 11 appear to play a minor role in justifying support for military action among the general population. However, belief in the link between Saddam Hussein and September 11 plays a critical role for a significant minority, such that without it there might not be majority support for military action. If new evidence were established showing links between Iraq and terrorist groups, this would substantially increase support for military action.

Iraq's Links to Terrorism

A near-unanimous majority believes that the Iraqi government trains and supports terrorists. In an August 2002 Gallup survey, 86% said they think "Saddam Hussein is involved in supporting terrorist groups that have plans to attack the United States." Just 8% felt Hussein was not involved in such activities (don't know: 6%). This is virtually unchanged since late 2001, when Wirthlin found 91% saying they "believe that Iraq encourages, trains, and supports terrorists." Asked the same question by Penn, Schoen and Berland in September 2001, 91% believed Iraq was involved in aiding terrorists. Most recently, Newsweek elaborated a different version, asking whether respondents "believe[d] that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq is harboring al-Qaeda terrorists and helping them to develop chemical weapons." A somewhat lower 75% said they believed this (September 2002). [1]

Also, an overwhelming majority believes that removing Saddam Hussein would be at least somewhat effective as a step in the war on terrorism. A November 2001 Zogby poll found 80% who said this would be at least "somewhat effective" (with 48% saying "very effective"). [2]

Iraq is even seen as more supportive of terrorists than Iran. When asked in an August 2002 Fox poll whether Iraq or Iran "is a stronger supporter of terrorism and poses the greater immediate danger to the United States," a strong plurality of 49% chose Iraq. Just 18% chose Iran, while 23% volunteered that they were both about equal. [3]

It is not clear, however, that a majority believes there is a connection between Iraq and the September 11 terrorist attacks. When respondents were asked to say who they thought was responsible for the September 11 attacks, a fairly small percentage identified Saddam Hussein or Iraq. Shortly after September 11, respondents were asked the open-ended question: "Who do you think is more responsible [sic] for the recent terrorist attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon?" Only 3% proposed Saddam Hussein or Iraq, while 57% named Osama bin Laden as the most likely suspect. All who answered were asked for a second choice; this time Iraq scored higher, but still only got 27% of responses (Wirthlin, September 15-17, 2001). When a CNN/USA Today poll presented Iraq as a possible object of blame for September 11, 41% said they blamed Iraq "a great deal", but this was lower than the percentage blaming other countries and actors a great deal, including Osama bin Laden (83%), Afghanistan (64%), and fundamentalist Muslim leaders (53%). [4]

One poll has found a slight majority saying that Iraq was behind the attacks. In August 2002, a Gallup poll found 53% saying they believed "Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attacks"; 34% did not think so and 13% had no opinion. However it should be noted that this question immediately followed a question in which 86% agreed that Hussein was involved in supporting terrorists generally, so that a 'response set' may have accounted for some of this agreement with the question about September 11. [5]

Justification for Military Action

Iraq's possible links to terrorists and September 11 seem to play a fairly minor role in most Americans' support for taking military action against Iraq. When a poll question specifically made the connection between Iraq's link to terrorism in general (not specifically September 11) and attacking Iraq, a modest majority saw it as a justification. Asked, "In your mind, is there enough of a link between Iraq and terrorism to justify a US military campaign to try to topple the regime…or does the US need to offer more evidence?" 55% said there was enough of a link; 34% said the US needed to offer more evidence (11% not sure; Investors' Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor, December 2001). However when an August Gallup poll asked respondents who said they had a clear idea why the U.S. is considering military action against Iraq to cite "the reasons why the United States may take new military action against Iraq." Just 4% said it was because Iraq had something to do with terrorism. [6]

However, it does appear that for a significant minority Iraq's possible links to September 11 plays an important role in its support for taking action against Iraq. When NBC/Wall Street Journal asked in January 2002 whether the US should "take military action against Iraq and Saddam Hussein, even if Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks," only 47% said the US should take military action in that case, while 42% said the US should not. This level of support for military action is approximately 20% lower than questions that have simply asked about taking military action. Thus it appears that were it not for this possible linkage between Saddam Hussein and September 11 in the minds of a minority of Americans, there would not be clear majority support for taking military action against Iraq. [7]

Several poll questions reveal that if new evidence emerged linking Iraq to terrorism this would strengthen support for taking military action. In Pew polls taken in both January and April 2002, when respondents were asked to suppose "we learned that Iraq helped terrorists attack the United States," an overwhelming 83% said they would see it as a "very important reason to justify the use of military force." In the January survey, Pew also found that "if we learned that Iraq was harboring other terrorists," 75% would see this as a very important reason to justify the use of military force.

It also appears that when the President makes an association between Iraq and terrorists this elevates slightly the support for military action. Told in a February 2002 Los Angeles Times poll that "George W. Bush has named Iraq as one of the countries that are harboring terrorists and stockpiling chemical, biological and nuclear weapons," 77% then favored "taking military action against terrorist targets in Iraq"-a percentage a bit higher than most polls find when respondents are not given this information. [9]



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