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MPR Poll: U.S. winning war on terror
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A security guard stands on a corner in Times Square in May. The U.S. fears that al Qaeda may be plotting an attack inside the country or against U.S. interests abroad. Despite these warnings, the government has no plans to raise the terror threat level and has no details on when, where or how an attack might occur. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
One day before the scheduled release of the long-awaited Sept. 11 Commission report, a new poll shows most Minnesotans think the United States is making progress in the fight against terrorism. The Minnesota Public Radio - St. Paul Pioneer Press poll also found that about half of Minnesotans believe the terrorist group Al Qaeda did collaborate with Iraq. That's contrary to the findings of the interim report already released by the 9/11 Commission.

St. Paul, Minn. — The poll found more than three-quarters of Minnesotans think the U.S. is better prepared for a major terrorist attack than it was on Sept. 11, the day terrorists flew planes into U.S. targets. Betty Albee of Rochester was one of the 625 registered voters polled July 12-14. Albee believes the U.S. had no choice but to invade Iraq in response to the 9/11 attacks. She thinks there was a direct connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and said the United States had to fight terrorists in Iraq.

"They behead people. Right now in Iraq they are. They're ruthless people. If we don't fight them and get rid of some of these terrorists, they're going to be over here all the time," Albee said. " I believe it's because we went to war that there has not been any more terrorist attacks."

About half of Minnesotans agree with Albee that Al Qaeda collaborated with Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power. About a third of poll respondents believe there was no collaboration, while nearly a fifth said they weren't sure. Muriel Nesterud of Stillwater said she doesn't believe Al Qaeda and Iraq were collaborating on terrorism.

"Well, I don't think they did, but then, you know, how would we know, really? The average person, how would they know?" Nesterud said.

The 9/11 Commission staff report released last month found "no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda co-operated on attacks against the United States". Terrorism expert Dan Byman is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a former staff member to the Joint 9/11 Inquiry Staff of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Byman said the poll shows many Minnesotans have misconceptions about an Al Qaeda-Iraq link.

"There was a lot of early noise that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and several senior Bush administration officials have repeatedly pressed this point, so it's not terribly surprising that there's some confusion in the public," Byman said. "There's also a tendency to associate various enemies of the United States together. That Al Qaeda's an enemy, Saddam Hussein was an enemy, and thus, natural enough they would be collaborating, even though in this case, it's clear that they were not."

The poll found most Minnesotans believe neither the Bush administration nor the Clinton administration adequately prepared for a terrorist attack. Poll respondent Tom Klein of Minneapolis said he believes that U.S. intelligence agencies bungled information, and were ill-prepared to deal with terrorism.

"Just like any organization, you get locked into doing something one way," Klein said. "And we keep running the same solution at a different problem til finally someone comes up with, oh, we'll package a bomb in an airliner, we'll make the airliner a bomb. They have no system to protect against that, and then we get a 9/11 disaster."

Klein said terrorism is one issue that's important to him in the presidential race. He's an undecided voter, and is trying to figure out who would be the best candidate to redefine the United States' global role. Eleven percent of poll respondents said homeland security would be the most important issue that influences their vote in the presidential race, behind the economy, Iraq and social issues.

The poll also found more than half of poll respondents think Republican President George W. Bush would do a better job of dealing with terrorism, compared to 35 percent who thought Democrat John Kerry would do a better job.

Political science professor Richard Stoll of Rice University in Houston said homeland security could play a role in the presidential race.

"If you are a Republican strategist, on the one hand you know that this is an issue that at least for the time being, people feel your candidate is stronger on than the Democratic candidate," Stoll said. "So you want to push that issue, on the other hand, you can basically tie Bush's approval to Iraq very directly to the level of American casualties."

The poll found 60 percent of Minnesotans rate the Bush administration response to Sept. 11 as good or excellent. The poll's margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.

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