BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Only 18 percent of Iraqis have confidence in U.S.-led forces, a new poll showed on Monday, as President Bush faced anti-war protests at home four years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
With Iraq bogged down in sectarian violence that threatens to tip the country into civil war, Bush announced a strategy shift earlier this year and has started sending some 26,000 reinforcements for a security crackdown focused on Baghdad.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday it was too early to evaluate whether the latest U.S. strategy was working but “so far, so good.”
U.S. generals say it will probably be summer before the impact of the extra troops can be fully assessed, and have warned the troop increase could have a “squirting effect” where al Qaeda and insurgents would operate elsewhere, Gates said.
With American public opinion turned increasingly against the Iraq war, a poll published by the BBC on Monday showed only 18 percent of Iraqis have confidence in U.S.-led forces.
The poll of more than 2,000 people, commissioned by the BBC, ABC News, ARD and USA Today, indicated Iraqis have become less optimistic about the future compared to a similar survey in 2005 when respondents were generally hopeful, the BBC said.
The Iraqi government inspired more confidence than U.S.-led forces, with opinion almost evenly split on whether people had confidence in the U.S.-backed administration headed by Shi’ite Islamist Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
About 86 percent were concerned about someone in their household being a victim of violence. Iraqis were also disappointed by reconstruction efforts since the invasion, with 67 percent saying efforts had not been effective.
Anti-war sentiment propelled Democrats into the majority in the U.S. Congress last November and the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war this week was marked by anti-war protests around the United States during the weekend.
U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major crackdown in Baghdad in mid-February that commanders say has already halved civilian deaths, largely through a reduction in the number of victims of death squad killings blamed on militias.
But al Qaeda and other militants appear to have stepped up efforts to stage car bombings and other dramatic attacks, including many targeting Iraqi police and security forces.
A police source in Dhuluiya, a town 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad in Salahaddin province, said suspected al Qaeda militants blew up two police stations early on Monday after warning police to leave the town.
On Sunday police found the decapitated and bound bodies of nine policemen in an al Qaeda stronghold in western Iraq, as U.S. commanders blamed the militant group for chlorine gas bombs that poisoned hundreds in the same province last week.