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Wide majorities of Americans believe Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will become more dangerous if the United States does not take military action to disarm him, according to a newly released survey.

The poll, conducted by Scott Rasmussen, found that 63 percent of adults believe military action is needed sooner rather than later to ensure that Saddam does not become more powerful.

Nearly three-quarters, or 74 percent, said they believe Iraq already has nuclear and biological weapons, compared to just 8 percent who say Baghdad does not have such weapons of mass destruction.

If the U.S. does learn with certainty that Iraq possesses such weapons, however, fully 68 percent believe American interests would be better served by launching a military assault against Baghdad with the goal of disarming Saddam, according to the survey.

Eight in 10 Americans also believe war with Iraq is looming.

“Given that an overwhelming majority believe Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, it is not surprising that 82 percent of Americans say it is somewhat or very likely that the United States will soon be at war with Iraq,” Rasmussen said.

That figure is down slightly from 87 percent a month ago, he said.

In terms of using ground troops to oust Saddam and destroy any WMD stockpiles, roughly half are in favor with just under one-third opposed. Support was slightly higher when the wording was changed to inquire specifically if the U.S. should use ground troops to eliminate nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The poll is from a national telephone survey of 1,000 adults conducted Dec. 11-12. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3 percent, with a 95 percent level of confidence.

Other surveys also indicate American anxiety over Saddam.

Pollster John Zogby, in a study released Dec. 5, found that 70 percent of Americans believe Saddam is a genuine threat to U.S. security.

On Thursday, U.S. and Russian officials concluded a preliminary assessment of Iraq’s 12,000-page weapons declaration submitted to United Nations inspectors Dec. 8. The probe’s initial focus was on the acquisition of sensitive technology and how Iraq put it to use.

U.S. officials said the declaration does not account for a number of missing chemical and biological weapons and fails to explain attempted purchases of uranium and other items U.S. intelligence believes are related to Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

The other three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, China and France – are expected to provide their preliminary assessments by today.

President Bush told ABC News Thursday his gut feeling is that Saddam “is a man who deceives, denies.”

Iraq says it has no weapons of mass destruction, but earlier this week U.S. officials found evidence that Iraq, in the months leading up to the Gulf War, was close to assembling a nuclear weapon.

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