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Ohioans express doubts, dismay over Iraq crisis

Wearing the annoyed look of a man recalling a half-forgotten enemy, Paul Ward, a retired accountant, put down his shopping bag and pondered whether America should bomb Iraq.

He said if the United States could put an end to the leadership of President Saddam Hussein, he was all for it."Should have been done right the first time," Ward said, contending that the United States could have driven Saddam from power during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. "But if we're going to do it, let's do it right. None of this fiddle-faddling around. I don't want to see them bomb and then a few years down the road, he's back at us. Let's go in and get it done."

With Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen scheduled to hold a town meeting here on Wednesday on possible military strikes against Iraq, the people in Columbus have been weighing their sentiments on war and peace.

In talks with dozens of people at a shopping mall, it is plain that the people here, a largely white-collar region of 1 million people, have been following the accounts of the standoff with Iraq, which center on the Iraqi leader's refusal to allow inspection of weapons sites, and grappling with hard choices.

While most people seem to believe the United States should take action against Iraq, there is plenty of doubt and almost universal exasperation that American forces might once again be placed in harm's way.

No matter what their stance on military action, almost everyone says they have grown weary of the image of a dangerous despot tweaking the United States.

While Gallup polls in mid-January and again in early February showed Americans divided over whether to use military action against Iraq, the surveys indicated that support for an armed attack is growing.

Still, there is plenty of anguish over what course to follow, and some voices that say America should stay out of the troubled Middle East.