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Poll: Most still think Iraq war a mistake

Number of Americans optimistic inches up after al-Zarqawi death

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President Bush addresses reporters Monday at Maryland's Camp David.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More Americans expressed optimism about the war in Iraq after the killing of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, suggests a CNN poll released Monday, but a majority still believes the invasion was a mistake.

The poll found 43 percent of respondents said the war is going either very or moderately well, up from 38 percent in a March poll.

Fifty-four percent said they still believe the war is going either very badly or moderately badly, down from 60 percent in March.

And 55 percent said they believe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an error -- a figure unchanged from an April survey. (Poll results -- PDF)

The survey of 1,031 adults was taken Thursday through Sunday by Opinion Research Corp. for CNN. The poll's sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by a U.S. airstrike on a house north of Baghdad on Wednesday.

Though his followers are believed to make up only a small proportion of the insurgency, he is blamed for hundreds of bombing deaths and for exacerbating sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Monday's poll suggests the public is still split on whether to withdraw American troops. Of those surveyed, 18 percent said they want U.S. forces brought home now, and 29 percent said they want to see them out of Iraq within a year.

But 42 percent said the troops should be withdrawn eventually, but take as many years as necessary to turn control over to the Iraqis, and 6 percent said more troops should be dispatched.

The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 after accusing then-dictator Saddam Hussein of concealing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, having long-range missiles and trying to produce a nuclear bomb.

A U.S. investigation later concluded that Iraq had dismantled its weapons programs under U.N. supervision in the 1990s, though Iraq had tried to conceal some weapons-related research.

Hussein was deposed and is now standing trial with seven others in Baghdad, where testimony was interrupted Monday when the chief judge ordered Hussein's half brother removed from the courtroom. (Full story)

About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq more than three years after President Bush declared an end to "major combat" there. The U.S. death toll in Iraq is just short of 2,500, and estimates of Iraqi dead range from nearly 40,000 to more than 100,000.

More than two dozen people died -- including two children -- and dozens more were wounded in a string of attacks Monday in Iraq, officials said. (Full story)

Iraqis have elected a permanent government to replace Hussein, but the country has been wracked by a persistent insurgency and an increase in sectarian strife in recent months.

After allegations that U.S. Marines may have intentionally killed unarmed Iraqi civilians in two towns west of Baghdad, the number of poll respondents who said American actions in Iraq are "morally justified" dropped slightly, to 45 percent from 47 percent in a March poll.

The number of people who believe U.S. conduct is not morally justified was 47 percent, down from 50 percent from the previous poll. And 27 percent said U.S. troops are very likely to have committed war crimes in Iraq, while 30 percent consider the prospect fairly likely and 37 percent call that unlikely.

The military is conducting investigations into reports that Marines deliberately killed Iraqis in two separate incidents -- one in November in the town of Haditha, where 24 Iraqis were killed; and a second, in Hamdaniya in April, where one man died.

No charges have been brought in either incident, but seven Marines and a Navy medical corpsman have been held in a brig at Camp Pendleton, California, during the Hamdaniya investigation.

Bush met Monday at Maryland's Camp David with members of his Cabinet and other advisers for what he called a "meaningful" discussion of the situation in Iraq. He said talks would be held Tuesday with members of the new Iraqi government through a video teleconference.

"No question, the fighting is tough," Bush told reporters Monday afternoon, flanked by his advisers.

"I keep reminding the American people that the stakes are worth it. It is worth it to help Iraq succeed. It is worth it to have a democracy in the Middle East. It is worth it to show other reformers and people who want to live in a free society what is possible," Bush said.

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