More than one third of Americans say the situation in Iraq is the most important problem facing the country, according to a new Gallup Poll.

Asked to name in their own words the “most important problem facing this country today,” 36 percent mentioned Iraq, up from 28 percent who picked the war in a previous survey in early October. While Iraq has topped the list each month since March 2004, the percentage mentioning Iraq as the most pressing problem this month is among the highest Gallup has ever measured.

About one in four mentioned some form of economic problem as the nation’s most daunting challenge, with 10 percent saying the economy in general, followed by 4 percent saying the unemployment or jobs. Two percent said fuel/oil prices, tying with taxes and the gap between the rich and poor.

Nine percent each listed non-economic problems of healthcare and dissatisfaction with government, just ahead of immigration/illegal aliens at 8 percent and terrorism at 7 percent.

Few–1 percent each–identified abortion, homosexuality and the judicial system, all wedge issues used by the Religious Right in efforts to mobilize so-called “values voters” in the recent mid-term elections.

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, told Congress Wednesday he opposed setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, amid arguments from Democrats urging President Bush to start pulling out.

Instead of heeding calls for withdrawal, the president reportedly told top advisers the U.S. and allies must make “a lastbig push” to win the war and may increase U.S. forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, the UK Guardian reported Thursday.

As of Wednesday at least 2,858 members of the U.S. military had died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to the Associated Press.

The Department of Defense on Thursday identified the most recent military deaths. Marines Mario D. Gonzalez, 21, of La Puente, Calif., and Michael D. Scholl, 21, of Lincoln, Neb., died Nov. 14 in combat actions in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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