On the eve of an apparent car-bomb attack on a hotel frequented by foreigners in Iraq, a poll of nine countries found majorities in some Muslim nations saying that suicide bombings and other violence against civilian targets are justified.

Wednesday night’s explosion in central Baghdad killed at least 27, according to USA Today. The violence came in a week when gunmen in two separate attacks killed two Europeans and four Southern Baptist missionaries in Iraq.

Tuesday’s poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that discontent with the United States and its policies has increased, rather than declined, in the year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. While a majority of Americans continue to back the war, it has undermined U.S. credibility in Europe and in Muslim countries, according to the survey conducted before last week’s terrorist attacks in Spain.

“This poll says to me the discontent with America is a long-term problem that U.S. leaders have to confront,” poll director Andrew Kohut told the Washington Post. “We’ve never seen ratings as low as this for America.”

The findings accent concerns about civilian workers in Iraq being viewed as “soft targets” for terrorist attacks.

Four Southern Baptist relief workers were killed and a fifth wounded in an apparent drive-by shooting attack on their vehicle Monday in Mosul.

The dead included Larry and Jean Elliott, a long-time missionary couple from Cary, N.C., who previously served for decades in Honduras with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. The other victims—Karen Watson of Bakersfield, Calif., and David McDonall of Rowlett, Texas—had more recently been appointed to three-year terms of mission service.

McDonall’s wife, Carrie, the sole survivor, was hospitalized at a military facility in critical condition.

On Tuesday, two European engineers, one from Germany and the other from the Netherlands, died when gunshots from a passing car ripped into their four-wheel-drive vehicle in southern Iraq. Two Iraqis in the vehicle also died.

Released in the midst of the rash of attacks on foreign civilians in Iraq, the survey found majorities in Muslim countries of Pakistan and Morocco answering that attacks on civilian targets are sometimes justified “in order to defend Islam from its enemies.” About a third in Pakistan (35 percent) and Morocco (38 percent) said such attacks are “never justified.

In Jordan, where the question was stated slightly differently because the phrase “in order to defend Islam from its enemies” had to be stricken, just 14 percent said violence against civilians is never justified. Fourteen percent in Jordan said it is rarely justified, while 50 percent said it is “sometimes” and another 32 percent that it is “often” justified.

Muslim countries are divided in their views on the subject, however. Two-thirds of respondents in Turkey said attacking civilian targets is always wrong.

Sentiment also varied when related to specific instances. In Jordan, 70 percent said suicide bombing carried out on Americans and other Westerners is justifiable in Iraq, but 86 percent said the same thing about suicide bombing by Palestinians against Israeli citizens.

Thirty-one percent in Turkey, 46 percent in Pakistan and 66 percent in Morocco said suicide bombings were justifiable in Iraq, while 24 percent in Turkey, 47 percent in Pakistan and 74 percent in Morocco said they were OK against Israel.

The findings came as no surprise to a representative of a U.S.-based missions organization, who did not wish to be identified by either his name or his agency on the Internet, who said anti-American hostility has increased since America launched its war on terror.

“It’s not so much a matter of missionaries being at risk; it’s any American is at risk,” the spokesman said. Under current U.S. policies, “anyone who looks like an American or looks like it might be a citizen of a country that looks like it is affiliated with America is going to be fair game.

“It doesn’t matter what their occupation is or why they’re there. They’re going to be a target.”

Since 9/11, the official said, “We’ve had to hunker down and keep lower profiles and stay out of certain places.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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