Support for Bush ebbs away because of growing violence

The growing violence in Iraq and America's apparent inability to deal with it are eroding public support in the United States for the occupation.

A poll released yesterday suggests support for war has plunged since spring, when Saddam Hussein and his regime were ousted. The Gallup poll published by USA Today revealed that 52 per cent of Americans think the war was "worth it", compared with 71 per cent back in April.

With the election campaign gathering pace, such polls are a worry to White House strategists who had been counting on a swift and successful military operation in Iraq - something initially achieved - to cement and even boost the popularity of President George Bush.

After a spate of deadly and co-ordinated attacks, including a suicide bomb on Monday at the offices of the Red Cross in Baghdad, there is a growing realisation that such assumptions were misplaced.

That prompted Mr Bush to hold a press conference at the White House on Tuesday, during which he sought to present a positive spin on developments in Iraq and assure voters that America was standing firm. Aides said he had been planning such a press conference for several weeks, but after meeting his senior staff in the Oval Office early on Tuesday he decided to bring forward his address to the public.

Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, told The New York Times: "At these moments of testing, where the terrorists try to create chaos and fear, where they want America to blink, it's very important for the American public and the Iraqi people to hear that we are resolved to see this through." He added that the President's role was "to put it into context".

Reports suggest even senior Republicans are becoming concerned at Mr Bush's performance in selling the war to the public, wincing at his suggestion on Monday that the latest violence was a sign that "the more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react".

The Democratic presidential candidates have used the failure to secure the position in Iraq to attack Mr Bush, realising that could be the best chance to beat the President, especially if the economy continues its steady recovery.

Howard Dean, the Democrats' front-runner, said: "This President seems to lack the necessary leadership skills required to do what is necessary to successfully stabilise and reconstruct Iraq before the window of opportunity closes."

The Gallup poll also suggests that the problems in Iraq have affected the public confidence in Mr Bush's ability to deal with other "big problems".

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