Friday, October 19, 2007

Americans have the distinct impression that brighter days could be ahead in Iraq. Positive sentiments about the war are on a slow but steady upswing, according to a Harris Poll released yesterday.

The number of those who say things are getting better for U.S. troops has increased from 13 percent in March and 20 percent in August to 25 percent now.

Negativity has lessened: Those who say things are getting worse for troops fell from 55 percent in January and 51 percent in March to 32 percent now.

“Whether because of the news from Iraq, or the messages from the White House, Americans are less pessimistic than they were about the future prospects in Iraq,” the survey said, deeming the findings “moderately good news for the White House.”

Although it is not blockbuster in nature, good news indeed ekes out. Extremist attacks on U.S. troops have dropped from 256 in August to 153 in September and 36 so far this month, according to the Defense Department.

Even war-torn Fallujah has improved.

“Municipal governments are starting to stand up. Fallujah now has a city council, has a mayor, has a city council chairman who are all very responsive to the needs of their constituency,” Stephen Falkan, the team leader of the provincial reconstruction team in the Anbar province, said at a press conference in Fallujah this week.

Are we buying such claims? A modest number of us give grudging acknowledgment to improvements in Iraq since President Bush sent an additional 20,000 troops in January.

“In May, only 9 percent believed the surge of new troops was working; that has now almost doubled to a [still very modest] 17 percent,” the survey said.

About 40 percent of the respondents said the increase has had little effect on the conflict, about the same as it was in May.

The nation still wrestles with ethics. A similar Harris survey two years ago found that 34 percent of us said military action was the “right thing” to do in Iraq, 53 percent said it was wrong and 13 percent were not sure. Now, 37 percent said it was the right thing, compared with 46 percent who said the war is wrong and 18 percent who are undecided.

Mr. Bush gets a tiny bounce. In January, 26 percent said he was doing a good job in Iraq. Now the number stands at 29 percent.

It’s a toss-up between Mr. Bush and Congress as far as public trust goes. Overall, an even quarter of the respondents trust the White House to manage the war, compared with 27 percent who preferred Congress and 34 percent who said “neither.” Another 14 percent were undecided.

Republicans still stand by their man: 58 percent said they trust the White House while 7 percent trusted Congress. Another 24 percent said they trust neither and 11 percent were not sure.

Among Democrats, half trusted Congress, 5 percent trusted the White House and 30 percent trusted neither. Another 16 percent were undecided.

The survey of 2,565 adults was conducted online Oct. 9 to 15.

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