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Saddam Hussein's Capture

American Public Opinion About Saddam Hussein's Capture in Iraq

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

by Joseph Carroll

Hussein's Capture Significant, but Few Think It Signals End of War

There is little question that Americans believe the capture of Saddam Hussein was a significant event, but by no means do they believe the war in Iraq is over.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Sunday after U.S. forces captured Hussein near Tikrit, Iraq, finds that more than 8 in 10 Americans say his capture is a major achievement for the United States. By comparison, in July of this year, 62% of Americans said the finding and killing of Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, was a major achievement for the United States.

Americans may be celebrating the capture of Hussein, but they do not feel the challenges for the United States in Iraq are over. An ABC News/Washington Post poll, also conducted Sunday, finds that 90% of respondents say there are big challenges still ahead for the United States in Iraq. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows that the majority of Americans, 58%, say the capture will not affect plans to bring U.S. troops home, and only 31% say it means there will be either an end to or a major decline in U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. About one in six respondents in the ABC News/Washington Post poll feel the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq now that Hussein has been captured.

Capture Has Little Immediate Impact on Support for War in Iraq

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds little immediate change in the public's attitudes that the war in Iraq was worth fighting, perhaps in part because the level of support was already relatively high.

On Dec. 14, following Hussein's capture, 62% of Americans said the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over. That's little changed from the 59% who felt the war was worth it in the Dec. 5-7 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. The percentage of the public who felt that the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over had been as low as 50% in September.

Americans Are Now More Confident About Positive Outcomes of War in Iraq

Americans are now somewhat more confident than before Hussein's capture that the United States will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, establish a stable democratic government there, and stop the attacks against U.S. soldiers. The percentage of Americans confident in each of these outcomes increased over the last week by 12-13 percentage points.

There has been a more significant increase in confidence that Osama bin Laden will be captured or killed, up by 27 percentage points after the capture of Hussein.

Americans Favor an International Tribunal for Hussein's Trial, and a Majority Believes He Should Receive the Death Penalty if Convicted

Americans are somewhat more likely to say Hussein should be tried in an international court, rather than in a military tribunal or an Iraqi court.

According to the Sunday CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 48% of Americans say Hussein should be tried in an international court, applying international laws and legal standards, while 25% say he should be tried in an Iraqi court using Iraqi judges, and 24% say a U.S. military court, sometimes called a military tribunal.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll did not specify a U.S. military tribunal as an option, but found a similar preference for an international trial. Fifty-two percent in that poll said Hussein should be tried in an international tribunal set up by the United Nations to ensure the trial is fair and impartial, compared with just about 4 in 10 who said an Iraqi tribunal should try Hussein.

If Hussein is tried and found guilty, 59% of respondents in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey say he should be given the death penalty, compared to 37% who say he should be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. The ABC News/Washington Post poll found almost identical results (60% said Hussein should receive the death sentence and 32% said life imprisonment without parole).

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