Sat, Aug 27, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Most Americans agree on the right to object, protest

AP , WASHINGTON

An overwhelming number of Americans say critics of the Iraq war should be free to voice their objections -- a rare example of widespread agreement about a conflict that has divided the nation along partisan lines.

Nearly three weeks after a grieving California mother named Cindy Sheehan started her anti-war protest near President George W. Bush's Texas ranch, nine of 10 people surveyed in an AP-Ipsos poll say it is okay for war opponents to publicly share their concerns about the conflict.

With the US death toll in Iraq climbing past 1,870 with an especially bloody month, the public's opinion of the Bush administration's handling of the war has been eroding over the past two years.

Overall attitudes about the war -- while negative -- haven't changed dramatically in recent weeks and a solid majority, 60 percent, want US troops to stick it out until Iraq is stable.

The poll found that most people disapprove of the Bush administration's conduct of the war and think the war was a mistake. Half believe it has increased the threat of terrorism. Democrats overwhelmingly question the president's policies, while Republicans overwhelmingly support them.

Public doubts about the war have gotten new attention since Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in Iraq last year, took her protest to Crawford, Texas, on Aug. 6.

Hundreds of fellow protesters have been drawn to Camp Casey, named for her 24-year-old son. Sheehan's protest sparked hundreds of vigils around the country a week ago.

The AP-Ipsos poll found that Republicans are the most likely to disapprove of people voicing opposition to the war.

The poll found that 37 percent approve of the way the Bush administration is conducting the war. Three-fourths of Republicans and only 15 percent of Democrats in the poll approve.

Support for Bush's handling of the war was stronger among those who know someone who has served in Iraq -- almost half -- compared with about a quarter of those who don't know someone who served in Iraq.

More than half of those polled, 53 percent, say the US made a mistake in going to war in Iraq. That level of opposition is about the same as the number who said that about Vietnam in August 1968, six months after the Tet offensive -- the massive North Vietnamese attack on South Vietnamese cities that helped turn US opinion against that war. Various polls have shown that erosion of war support has been faster in Iraq than during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

While disagreeing with Cindy Sheehan's call to pull troops out of Iraq, Bush said, "I strongly support her right to protest."

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