Violence in Iraq, despair back home

As sectarian violence explodes again, a new poll shows that U.S. troops want a pullout, too.

Published February 28, 2006 4:05PM (EST)

Well, that didn't last long.

After a day of relative calm Monday, Baghdad has exploded in violence again today. According to the Associated Press, five attacks -- including a suicide bombing at a gas station -- have killed 41 and wounded scores more.

Today's attacks appear to be a continuation or resumption of the sectarian violence that erupted last week after the destruction of the Askariya shrine. How deadly has that fighting been? Reports diverge, dramatically. The New York Times, relying on numbers from Iraq's Council of Ministers, says that 379 Iraqis had been killed before today's attacks. The Washington Post says that the Statistics Department of the Iraqi police puts the death toll at 1,020 -- and that morgue officials say they have logged 1,300 deaths since last Wednesday.

Numbers like that are staggering in human terms. The United States -- a country with a population more than 10 times as large as Iraq's -- has lost nearly 2,300 soldiers since the war started three years ago; imagine the outcry if the U.S. lost 1,300 -- or 13,000 -- more in less than a week. The numbers, if correct, also carry serious political significance. As the Post says, statistics showing 1,300 deaths in less than a week would undercut attempts by U.S. and Iraqi officials to minimize the violence that has taken Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Not that those attempts were working anyway. As we noted earlier today, the latest CBS News poll shows that Americans are in a state of despair about Iraq. CBS says that "Americans' perceptions of the U.S. effort in Iraq are at an all-time low." Sixty-two percent of the public thinks things are going "badly" in Iraq; only 29 percent of the public believes the results of the war have been worth the cost; and 54 percent of the public says the president should never have started the war in the first place.

The president's supporters will surely say that the latest poll numbers are the product of media fixation on bad news from Iraq. Here's a reality check: As the Times' Nicholas Kristof reports, the first-ever poll of U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq shows that 72 percent of them think the United States should get out of Iraq within the year; 29 percent say the U.S. should leave Iraq immediately.

What are the troops doing in Iraq? Fifty-eight percent say their mission is clear, but 42 percent say the U.S role is hazy. There's one thing on which they agree, however: According to Zogby, which conducted the poll with New York's Le Moyne College, 85 percent of the troops say a major reason for the U.S. mission is "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks."

Did we mention "despair"?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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