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Opinion divided over Iraq, Blair

Thursday, February 20, 2003

As the United Nations Security Council debated the fate of Iraq this week, local reaction seems to have become more divided.

The online poll of TheBrazilTimes.com has asked the question, "Is now the time for the United States to attack Iraq?"

Earlier in the week, the live poll indicated as many as two-thirds of those choosing to participate favored an immediate attack. By Wednesday morning, the results were sharply different with 51 percent voting yes and 49 percent voting no. The results are not scientific and only reflect the views of those wishing to participate.

There is no way of knowing if the change in numbers reflects a shifting of local opinion. Neither can it be established why participants would change their minds.

However, in recent days, the news media has reported widespread protests, involving millions of people, opposing war with Iraq.

Scientific polls in England show Prime Minister Tony Blair's job approval rating falling dramatically. Approximately the same percentage of people in Great Britain approve of Blair's job performance as support a possible war against Iraq, leading some to tie Blair's falling popularity to his support of the war.

The British prime minister was rated as satisfactory by only 35 percent of respondents to an ICM Survey for The Guardian newspaper. The figure was down from 49 percent a month earlier, according to a story reported Monday by The Associated Press.

Fifty-five percent said they were dissatisfied, up 12 points from January. The other 10 percent expressed no opinion.

Blair is staking his political future on backing the United States against Iraq, despite considerable opposition from Britons about going to war without United Nations backing.

An estimated 750,000 peace demonstrators marched in London on Saturday as part of a global anti-war protest. Politicians, trade unionists and some British newspapers said Sunday that Blair will risk his political future if he ignores the protests.

According to the poll, 52 percent of respondents oppose a war with Iraq, up 5 percentage points from last month. The poll did not indicate if that opposition depended on U.N. backing for military action. Twenty-nine percent said they would support military action, down one point.

Support for Blair's governing Labor Party fell from 43 percent to 39 percent, according to the survey.

Support for the main opposition Conservative Party, however, rose only one percentage point to 31 percent, as it did for the Liberal Democrats, which stood at 22 percent.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,003 adults by telephone on Feb. 14-16. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Meanwhile, President Bush remains determined to use force, if necessary, against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Declaring that America's security should not be dictated by protesters, Bush said Tuesday he would not be swayed from compelling Saddam to disarm. "We will deal with him," Bush said.

"War is my last choice," Bush said at the White House. "But the risk of doing nothing is even a worse option as far as I am concerned."

Standing firmly against skeptical allies as well as the demonstrators, Bush said: "I owe it to the American people to secure this country. I will do so."

Administration officials in Washington and at the United Nations in New York were discussing the possible gains as well as the risk of a diplomatic defeat if the United States proposed a new resolution to the Security Council to endorse force as an option to disarm Iraq.

One U.S. official said Tuesday there was no decision on a text or even on whether to go ahead, though White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "I think it will be a simple and rather straightforward resolution."

Bush said a second resolution "would be useful," although "we don't need a second resolution. It's clear this guy could even care less about the first resolution. He's in total defiance."

In Rome, U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan said Iraq had to "move very fast" to heed the call of the international community and cooperate with U.N. inspectors. But he said it was up to the Security Council to decide if the inspections had gone on long enough.

France, with support from Russia and China, does not accept the U.S. view that the Security Council effectively endorsed force as an option to disarm Iraq in an earlier resolution. That resolution warned of "serious consequences" if Saddam persisted in defying U.N. demands.

France, China and Russia all have the power to kill any resolution with a veto or to threaten a veto to try to force the United States and Britain to soften their approach.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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