Yep, you did it, George — mission impossible accomplished. Unbelievably, four years of a bungled occupation have managed to make Saddam Hussein’s tyranny look good in comparison with “liberated Iraq.”

At least, that is the view of the Iraqi weightlifter made famous through a video of him taking a sledgehammer to Saddam Hussein’s statue. “I really regret bringing down the statue,” Kadhim al-Jubouri said on British television this week. “The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day.”

That’s the judgment of a man who spent nine years in Hussein’s jails, and, unfortunately, it is one shared by a majority of his countrymen, according to an authoritative poll sponsored jointly by ABC, BBC and USA Today: Only 38 percent of Iraqis believe that the country is better off today than under Hussein, while nearly four out of five oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq.

Even more disturbing is that 51 percent of Iraqis think it is OK to attack coalition troops — triple the number that thought that way in a 2004 survey. Square that with our president’s assurances, offered since the first month of this unnecessary adventure, that the insurgency represents a small handful of terrorists. While most of the antipathy is registered among Sunnis, 94 percent of whom favor attacks on coalition forces, and by only 7 percent of Kurds, a surprising 35 percent of Shiites endorse that sort of violence.

Given the number of Kurds and Shiites who originally welcomed the invasion, it is also startling that 53 percent of all Iraqis polled agreed that “from today’s perspective, and all things considered,” it was “wrong that U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003.”

The poll, part of a series conducted each of the past three years at great risk to 150 pollsters, reveals a sharp rise in anti-American feeling and disapproval of the 2003 invasion.

When Bush didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction or ties between Saddam and 9/11, the fallback justification for the taking of tens of thousands of lives and the expenditure of over $400 billion in American taxpayer money was that Iraq would become a model for the democratic, free-market way of life. Many assumed the richest, most powerful and most technologically competent country in the world could improve life for Iraqis compared with that afforded by a vicious dictator hemmed in by international boycotts. But it didn’t happen.

What Bush has managed to do is to place the United States in a no-win position as the most likely target for failed Iraqi expectations, which he did so much to raise. He is asking Iraqis to take his word for it that the invasion was not post-9/11 posturing or a grab for oil or a blow undertaken on behalf of Israel, yet he has nothing tangible to show as proof of his sincerity.

Almost four in five of those Iraqis polled called the availability of jobs “bad,” 88 percent had the same negative judgment of the supply of electricity, and 69 percent said the same about the availability of clean water and medical care. In this nation, gifted with the world’s second-largest oil reserves, 88 percent termed the availability of fuel for cooking and driving as quite bad.

Of course, the coffers of a handful of American mercenary, construction and energy corporations have swelled, despite this lack of credible achievement. More than $20 billion in “reconstruction” contracts were given to Vice President Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, alone.

The easy answer provided by Bush apologists for this dismal performance is to place blame on the insurgency. That, however, is not the verdict of the Iraqi people. Asked to judge how the United States and other coalition forces have carried out their responsibilities in Iraq, 76 percent say they have done “a bad job.” And while a modest majority don’t want the Americans to leave “immediately,” they don’t see the increase in the U.S. troop numbers, defended stoutly by Bush on Monday, as helpful. Truly, this is a lose-lose situation.

Asked the source of violence that had occurred near the polled individual’s neighborhood, the largest group, more than 44 percent, cited “unnecessary violence against citizens by U.S. or coalition forces,” while four out of 10 said they blame the coalition forces or Bush for “the most for the violence that is occurring in the country” — and only 18 percent cited “al-Qaida and foreign jihads.” So much for Bush’s claim that U.S. troops are needed in Iraq to protect its citizens from foreign terrorists.

Surprisingly, while 82 percent lacked confidence in coalition troops, two-thirds of those polled expressed confidence in their own army and police forces — yet more indication that Iraqis could do a better job of policing themselves than we can. Our continued presence there, ostensibly in the name of fixing the place, will only continue to exacerbate anti-U.S. sentiment among the people we claim to be saving.

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