updated 12/14/2006 3:46:02 PM ET 2006-12-14T20:46:02

“GOD-BLESS-OUR-TROOPS” is spelled out in four big signs along a wooded stretch of highway in rural southern Oklahoma.

Support for U.S. soldiers in Iraq runs deep in these parts and throughout much of the South and Southwest.

But while polls show the war itself is steadily losing the support of Americans, it has strong backers in the region, with God and terrorism often evoked to justify the war effort.

Rodeos here can start with a prayer to the troops abroad, while yellow ribbons remembering the soldiers are common sights on the bumpers of big pickup trucks.

From rural resort areas like Lake Texoma to upscale suburbs in Dallas, big U.S. flags and signs blessing the troops are common sights.

“I support the war in Iraq, as it’s better to fight the war on terrorists over there than in Nebraska,” said Lynn Kartchner, a Vietnam veteran and gun shop owner in the dusty Arizona town of Douglas.

That puts Kartchner in a minority.

A USA TODAY/Gallup poll this week was the latest to show ebbing public support for the war. Seven in 10 respondents disapproved of President Bush’s handling of Iraq and 61 percent said the war was not worth fighting, it said.

Discontent over the war was viewed as a key reason why Bush’s Republican Party lost control of Congress in Nov. 7 congressional elections.

But even as the White House plans a new Iraq strategy, the administration’s pursuit of the conflict has its backers.

“It would be a disservice and a disgrace to all those who died to finish without first stabilizing Iraq,” said Iraq war veteran Rob Moore, a partner in a Houston wealth management group.

Trend seen in war supporters
Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center says the typical supporter of the war is a conservative Republican.

“They would more likely be a man than a woman, much more likely to be white than non-white, and, in terms of religion, to be evangelical Protestant,” Keeter said.

The center’s most recent poll, released on Tuesday, showed 58 percent of white evangelicals favored keeping U.S. forces in Iraq until the situation has stabilized, versus 44 percent among the public as a whole.

Keeter said white southerners were also fairly solid supporters, with 52 percent of those surveyed in favor of keeping the troops in Iraq until stability is achieved.

“I think that the single strongest element in support for the war at the moment is an endorsement of President Bush’s vision of it,” he said.

In that vision, the mission in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism that Bush declared after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We can’t leave now. For us to fail now would deal a devastating blow to our national prestige and our ability to use American force in the future. We need a credible use of force against terrorist threats,” said San Antonio lawyer Thad Coakley, another Iraq veteran.

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