Americans back Petraeus troop plan, oppose war

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WASHINGTON, Sep 18 (Reuters) A majority of Americans approve of US plans for limited troop withdrawals from Iraq but are not more optimistic about the war after testimony last week from a top US general, a new poll found today.

The poll by the Pew Research Center for the People&The Press found modest improvements in public perceptions of the US military effort in Iraq, with 41 per cent saying it was going very or fairly well, up from 36 per cent in July.

The top US commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, said in congressional testimony last week that President George W Bush's troop build-up in Iraq had led to progress in reducing violence but that political reconciliation among warring factions remained elusive.

The poll, conducted September 12-16 among 1,501 adults, said 57 per cent of Americans who had heard something about Petraeus' testimony said they supported his recommendations for withdrawing some 20,000 troops from Iraq by next July.

But just 16 per cent said Petraeus' statements had made them more optimistic about the war, while 67 per cent said their views were unchanged by the general's report.

While most people said they approved of Petraeus' recommendations for limited troop withdrawals, a majority also favored pulling US forces out as soon as possible without waiting for the situation in Iraq to stabilize.

The poll found 54 per cent of Americans believe US forces should be brought home as soon as possible, while 39 per cent say the troops should remain in Iraq until the situation is stable.

''The public's outlook on several aspects of America's involvement in Iraq has improved over the summer, though the balance of opinion remains negative in most areas,'' poll director Andrew Kohut wrote in his analysis of the survey's results.

He said the rise in optimism that the United States is making progress in Iraq was most apparent among Republicans.

The poll found 67 per cent of Republicans today believe the United States is making progress in defeating Iraqi militants, while only 16 per cent of Democrats and 31 per cent of independents believed in that assessment.

Democrats in charge of the US Congress have been unsuccessful in forcing Bush to accept a troop withdrawal timeline.

REUTERS RC BST0059

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