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Conflict With Iraq

Relative Priority of Conflict With Iraq

The problem of Iraq is seen as a high priority, but not as high a priority as dealing with Osama bin Laden's terrorist group al-Qaeda. About half say it is very urgent to resolve the problem of Iraq, and a majority view the removal of Saddam Hussein as a very important US foreign policy goal.

In late September 2002 PIPA/Knowledge Networks presented a list of five foreign policy problems and asked respondents to rank-order them. The highest-ranked problem was Osama bin Laden's terrorist group al-Qaeda, which was given the top ranking by 43% and a mean ranking of 2.11. The situation in Iraq was in second position, with 34% giving it a top ranking. Its mean ranking was 2.29. Lower on the list were the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Afghanistan, and the India-Pakistan conflict. [1]

The same poll asked, "How urgent do you think it is to resolve the problem of Iraq?" Just under half (47%) rated it as very urgent. Thirty-nine percent rated it as somewhat urgent, while small percentages rated it as not too urgent (10%) or not urgent at all (3%). [2]

While al-Qaeda is viewed as a higher priority, a majority of Americans do say that removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq is a "very important" foreign policy goal for the US. When those who say it is "somewhat important" are included, the percentage saying the goal is important rises to an overwhelming majority. A September 2002 ABC News poll found that 91% felt working to "force Saddam Hussein from power" to be at least somewhat important (68% called it very important). Just 9% believed it is not too important or not at all important. [3]

The intensity of this feeling in the ABC poll represents a return to levels not seen since spring 2002, and substantially higher than in mid-year. In April and June 2002 Gallup polls, only 45% and 47%, respectively, called "the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq" a "very important" foreign policy goal; in both polls, 83% said it was at least somewhat important. [4] Much higher percentages called ousting Saddam a high priority in early 2002 and late 2001. A February 10 Gallup survey found a strong majority of 64% saying removing Saddam was very important (88% total important). When asked the same question in a late September 2001 poll, a similar 68% felt this goal was very important (90% total important). In November 2001, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked respondents to rate on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being most important, the importance of "invading Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and end his support of terrorism." A majority of 52% rated the objective a 5, while 87% rated it a 3 or higher. It must be noted, though, that these earlier surveys asked about the military response to September 11 or referred to the "war on terrorism," while the April and June surveys did not refer to terrorism. Thus, while it seems fairly clear that the strength of support for the goal of removing Hussein had faded in mid-2002, it is possible that the lack of the "war on terrorism" phrase in the mid-year findings explain the reduced enthusiasm. [5]

Interestingly, in mid-2002 the public assigned a higher priority to resolving other problems in the Middle East, and a lower priority to Iraq. A June 2002 Gallup survey asked: "What should be higher priority for the U.S.--working to establish peace in the Middle East between the Palestinians and Israelis, or working to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq?" A modest majority of 52% chose working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, compared to 42% who gave priority to overthrowing Saddam Hussein. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, also fielded in June, offered four options and asked which one or two "deserve the greatest attention from the Bush administration." Three other concerns -- "the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians" (34%), "the tensions between India and Pakistan (29%), and "the war in Afghanistan" (21%) - were chosen by more respondents than "Iraq and Saddam Hussein", picked by 20%. [6]



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