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Tuesday, April 1

Public opinion intensifies on both sides of war

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - Two weeks into the war in Iraq, global public opinion has hardened for and against the conflict and there is little indication that will change any time soon.

Despite tougher-than-anticipated conditions on the battlefield, the American public's support for the war has not wavered below 70 percent since the war began March 19, according to USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Polls. But opposition in many Arab and European countries - except for Britain, which is involved in the war - has remained intense.

Polls taken recently in Europe show opposition above 80 percent in many countries. A new poll released Tuesday by the French newspaper Le Monde indicated that 33 percent of the French hope the United States and Britain don't win the war. Just over half - 53 percent - of those polled by Le Monde said they hope the coalition forces are triumphant.

Although there have been no recent comprehensive polls of Arab nations, public opinion in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern nations was heavily against an invasion before the war. Since the fighting began, there have been violent demonstrations against the United States and Britain in many Arab capitals. And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned this week that the image of U.S. and British forces fighting in Iraq could produce ``100 more Osama bin Ladens.''

There also have been reports of Iraqi expatriates crossing the border from Syria and Jordan to fight for their homeland, as well as warnings of suicide bombers flooding into the region from militant camps in neighboring countries. And advancing coalition soldiers have not seen throngs of cheering people in the streets of Iraq like some American analysts had predicted before the war.

American military planners say a fear of Saddam Hussein's death squads is dampening outward show of support, and President Bush has referred to an Iraqi woman who was allegedly hanged for waving at passing American troops.

But the hardening of opinion should not be a surprise over a conflict in a country whose leader claimed re-election last year without a single dissenting vote out of millions cast. It should not also come as a surprise that on Tuesday, a statement said to come from Saddam appealed heavily to religious opposition to the war, something that Saddam has not always used in a largely secular reign in his country.

Some believe that hearts and minds can be won only after the current phase of the war is complete, when the U.S. hopes images of rebuilding replace pictures of bomb plumes and racing tanks. But even then, the threshold of support may be high for coalition forces - especially in Arab countries where the media have heavily portrayed the war as an attack on fellow Muslims.

"In a week you can't go from the Great Satan to the great liberator,'' said June Speakman, a political scientist at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., referring to Saddam's label for the United States.

Charles Kimball, chairman of the religion department at North Carolina's Wake Forest University, agreed.

"The line between liberator and occupier is very thin,'' said Kimball, an expert on the Middle East and author of "When Religion Becomes Evil.''Speakman, an expert in public opinion, said that U.S. support for the war would probably remain high unless the war went badly over a prolonged period. Conversely, she said, opposition to the war in the Arab world and Europe would not dissipate until the images out of the theater drastically changed.

"It will not change as long as you see tanks rolling across the desert and bombs falling,'' Speakman said. "It will only come afterward, if you see images of schools being built and other rebuilding going on.''