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Five years in Iraq: a deep disquiet in the US

The bottom line may be that many in the US view the Iraq invasion as a mistake they don't want to see repeated.

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"Today, just 28 percent of adults are able to say that approximately 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war," concludes the Pew analysis.

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That does not mean Americans do not support their troops, of course. In fact, unlike the situation during the Vietnam era, there appears to be widespread realization that a small slice of US society – the military – is bearing a disproportionate burden.

"They put their lives on the line, and their lives will be forever changed. Their families' lives will be forever changed," says Sharon Howden of Mesa, Ariz.

Ms. Howden, owner of a landscape-maintenance firm, says the horrors of Iraq and general lack of freedom in the Middle East make her thankful for things in her own life, such as reliable electricity and the opportunity to run her own business.

She suggests the US is spread thin in Iraq, financially and militarily. She knows the image of the US has been tarnished overseas. She's torn about what the US should do now.

"I sometimes wish we could bring [the troops] home and put them on our border to solve our own problems here," Howden says. "But then sometimes it's necessary to help other people."

The US has spent billions of dollars bombing Iraq and then attempting to repair it, adds Brett Smith, a Mesa jewelry retailer. Yet major US cities are themselves wrecks, he says, and homelessness is chronic.

"I just think America tries to govern the world, and it seems like other countries don't do that.... We've just got our noses in too many other people's business," Mr. Smith says.

Americans are generally wary of foreign entanglements and worry about the ramifications of long-term commitments overseas, concludes an analysis of public opinion on Iraq by Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Thus many polls show that US citizens might support increased involvement in Iraq by the United Nations, or an expansion of the coalition of nations helping the US.

But if nothing else, the war in Iraq may have heightened the awareness of Americans about the problems of the rest of the globe.

That is what Boston pediatrician Andy Radbill says has happened to him, in any case.

"In general, it has made me more aware that there are a lot of countries around the world where people are treated very poorly by their governments," Dr. Radbill says. "It's hard to say that we have no responsibility to care about that."

Tom A. Peter in Boston and Faye Bowers in Mesa, Ariz., contributed to this report.