Video: Residence: Iraq
updated 6/8/2005 6:32:57 PM ET 2005-06-08T22:32:57

For the first time since the war in Iraq began, more than half of the American public believes the fight there has not made the United States safer, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.  Also the surge in violence in Iraq since the new government took control — 80 U.S. troops and more than 700 Iraqis died in May alone amid a rash of bombings — has been accompanied by rising gloom about the overall fight against terrorists.  One man who has seen it all play out over the past two years is Rod Nordland.  Nordland served as Newsweek Baghdad bureau chief for two years while in Iraq.  Mr. Nordland goes in depth about the Washington Post poll and what life is really like in Iraq. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: The insurgency in Iraq is not going anywhere, either as a fact or a story.  In a moment, we‘ll be joined by Newsweek's Rod Nordland, who is just back from a two-year tour of duty as that magazine‘s Baghdad bureau chief.  And we will go in depth on the new “Post” poll, which, among other things, indicates that now 52 percent of Americans say they believe the war has not contributed to long-term U.S. security.

As to Iraqi security, at least 24 lives claimed in today‘s violence, 18 of them in a string of four apparently coordinated bombings that spanned just seven minutes in northern Iraq, the first caused by a roadside bomb in Hawija (ph), 150 miles north of Baghdad, then three suicide bombers waiting in lines of cars at Iraqi army checkpoints, attacking in rapid succession.  Ten civilians and a soldier killed at a checkpoint two mile west of Kirkuk.

More than 870 people have died during the six-week period, still shy of six weeks, actually, since Iraq‘s new Shiite-led government was announced.

Now, as promised, Newsweek's correspondent at large, Rod Nordland, joins us now from London, just back from two years as the magazine‘s bureau chief in Baghdad.

Rod, thanks for your time.  Good morning to you there.


First of all, did you believe, when you first got to Iraq, that things would still be this bad two years later?

NORDLAND:  No.  I expected it would be difficult at first, and more difficult than it was, actually, the invasion part of it, and that Iraqis, once Saddam was toppled, would very quickly kind of rally around and be, you know, extremely grateful, and we we‘d all live happily ever after.

Like a lot of people, it was a rude surprise just how badly things went.

OLBERMANN:  Was there a turning point?  Or was there a lack of a turning point, in your opinion?  When did things start to go this way?

NORDLAND:  The real turning point, I think, was April 2004, one year into the war, when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke out.  I think that really turned the majority of Iraqis against the Americans and against the occupation or the American presence there.

OLBERMANN:  Is there any going back on that?  Is there anything that would eradicate that memory from Iraq and facilitate their stabilization and our ability to get out of there?

NORDLAND:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s anything short of our finally leaving.  On the other hand, you know, even most anti-American Iraqis, at least the most thoughtful ones, would not want to see us leave precipitously.  And I think once we do leave, and that‘s going to be a long, long way down the road, they‘ll finally believe that our intentions are serious about that.

Most — it‘s very hard to persuade Iraqis that we don‘t want to stay there, that we‘re not there for the oil, and so forth.

OLBERMANN:  Relative to the perception of the intentions here in the U.S., this “Washington Post” poll that is out tonight, that has the most pessimistic results that have yet been recorded on four key issues.  I‘m just going to run them here and then get your overall reaction.

Over half of those surveyed, 52 percent, believing the fight in Iraq has not made the U.S. any safer long term.  Six in 10, nearly 58 percent, now say the war was not worth fighting.  That‘s a remarkable turnaround in two years.  Sixty-five percent believe we are getting “bogged down.”  That was the quote they were asked to respond to in Iraq.  And 73 percent, nearly three quarters, saying the number of American casualties there is unacceptable.

Do you find it hard to believe that those statistics have become what they have become in this two-year span?

NORDLAND:  Well, no, I think that those viewpoints expressed are actually pretty accurate.  I‘m surprised, really, that it took the American public that long, as long as it did, to get around to that point of view.  I think, you know, coming up to the election last, you know, the—last year, it was really clear that most Americans either weren‘t paying very much attention, or were really buying into the administration‘s argument that things were getting better all the time.

And I think now, you know, finally, they‘ve come around to realizing that they‘re not getting better, and they‘re not going to get better very soon.

OLBERMANN:  The idea of things getting better all the time, or at least wanting it to be that way, certainly, I don‘t know what, if the question was actually addressed in the “Post” poll, but you would presume that 100 percent of American would want to it work, would want that country to have its freedom, would want it to have its reconstruction, and would want to hear good news about what‘s happened there in our time there.

Is it your sense that just the reconstruction issue, just the physical infrastructure issue, has been a positive, or has been a negative?

NORDLAND:  Well, it‘s really been a hostage to the security situation.  They really can‘t accomplish a major reconstruction in the kind of security environment that exists now in Iraq.  And that‘s not the fault of the American government.  It‘s not for lack of intention or will or even money.  I mean, we‘ve been unable to spend the money that‘s been allocated at anywhere near the rate that we expected to be able to spend it.

But—and that‘s mainly because of the security situation.

OLBERMANN:  Bob Nordland, “Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief these past two years, and now correspondent at large.  Great thanks for your time, sir.

NORDLAND:  Pleasure.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. E-mail Keith at

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