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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ | THE TIMES POLL

Many Desire U.N. Backing for War on Iraq

Most Americans believe Colin L. Powell was persuasive, but support for action falls from 62% with Security Council backing to 55% without.

February 09, 2003|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

Although Americans were overwhelmingly convinced by the case Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made against Saddam Hussein in his speech to the United Nations, they remain wary of war against Iraq without clear-cut U.N. backing, according to a new Los Angeles Times Poll.

The survey, conducted among people interviewed a week earlier and contacted again Friday and Saturday, found a slight increase in support for unilateral military action and an uptick in President Bush's approval rating. Support for the president's handling of Iraq also increased.

But there remains a deep desire to avoid war, even if it means prolonging the U.N. inspection process for weeks or even months.

"I found it very convincing, yes," Nancy Moody, 62, who owns an industrial gas business in western Pennsylvania, said of Powell's presentation Wednesday. "But I don't see what's the rush. Our economy is in the toilet and state budgets are way out of whack. I don't want to go to war unless it's absolutely the last possible option."

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said they would back a war effort endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. That support dropped to 55% when respondents were asked whether they would support a military action with some allied backing, but without U.N. concurrence.

The poll also found Americans to be on guard after the federal government last week raised its terrorism threat level to "high risk" and warned of growing concern about an attack during the ongoing Muslim holy days. But nearly nine in 10 of those surveyed said they have no intention of changing their behavior because of the elevated alert.

"If I change the way I live ... then I feel the terrorists are winning," said Lynn Chase, 49, who lives about 90 miles north of New York City in rural Sparrow Bush, N.Y. "And I'm stubborn enough not to let them affect my life."

Powell -- whose job approval rating surpasses that of Bush -- presented a detailed case against Iraq before the U.N. Security Council. Employing satellite photographs and secretly recorded conversations, Powell told the U.N. that Hussein is thwarting weapons inspectors, hiding weapons of mass destruction and harboring Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

While Powell was addressing multiple audiences -- including Security Council member states and skeptics abroad -- the poll shows he clearly made his case to the American people. More than seven in 10 of those surveyed agreed that Powell had proved that Iraq was actively working to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors; a like number believe Powell also demonstrated that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Americans were somewhat less convinced about the Iraqi-Al Qaeda link, with 65% believing Powell had made the case.

That said, only one in 10 of those questioned said Powell's speech had changed their minds and turned them into supporters of war with Iraq. "I feel more confident [the Bush administration] has the information they say they've had. I didn't feel that way a month ago," said Elizabeth LaGambina, a 39-year-old business consultant in Halifax, Mass., who was one of several poll participants who agreed to discuss their feelings in a follow-up interview.

She said, "We shouldn't go it alone. We should have the support of the U.N. I fear the rest of the world looking at us as if we're attempting to dominate the world and, when we see something we don't like, we're going to plow in and take care of it."

There also was some hardening of attitudes toward Hussein.

Asked in the latest survey if they would favor allowing the Iraq president to go into exile in exchange for the U.S. calling off military action, 60% responded favorably and 34% were opposed. A week ago, in the poll taken after Bush had delivered his State of the Union address Jan. 29, 64% were in favor and 29% were opposed.

"We should get rid of this dictator and let the people see what it's like to live in the free world," said Herschel Lewis, a 66-year-old Pennsylvania retiree who favors military action "even if we have to go it alone.... As a strong nation, we have to promulgate our way of life throughout the world."

Many more respondents, however, prefer to see the United States acting in concert with the United Nations, an attitude largely unchanged from the poll conducted before Powell's speech and Bush's warning Thursday to Iraq that "the game is over."

Just a third of those surveyed said that instead of going to war, they favor allowing U.N. inspections in Iraq to continue for weeks or months if that is necessary to eliminate the risk posed by Hussein. Three in 10 also support the U.S. taking immediate military action, while 10% oppose war under any circumstances; 22% would allow inspections to go on indefinitely.

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