MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A new poll shows that most Iraqis want American troops to withdraw within a year. It also found growing confidence in Iraq's own security forces and broad support for a strong central government, even as Shiite and Kurdish political leaders push for greater regional autonomy. The poll was commissioned by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland and was conducted in Iraq earlier this month.

NPR's Anne Garrels joins us now from Baghdad to assess some of the survey's findings. Anne, the poll says all of Iraq's main ethnic and sectarian groups, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, now favor a withdraw of American forces within a year. Does that fit with what your hearing from the Iraqis that you speak with?

ANNE GARRELS: I found that pretty surprising frankly. I mean, the Kurds actually said within two years. But generally speaking, it's true - Iraqis do not like the presence of American troops. And because of the lack of progress here be it the, you know, progress on infrastructure or security over the past three plus years, many Iraqis believe the U.S. wants to keep Iraq crippled. How, they ask, can the world super power have done so badly if it were not by intent.

But having said that, they want assurances that the U.S. will indeed leave one day. But what I hear from them is that the U.S. needs to stay for now. Generally speaking, people here are downright scared and are scared at what will happen when the U.S. leaves.

NORRIS: You say they are down right scared, what about that suggestion that Iraqis are growing more confident in their own security forces?

GARRELS: They want to believe in their own security forces. They don't want to be dependent on the U.S., and that I think colors their response. In reality, I would say Iraqis generally do have greater confidence in the army. It's not great. Only a quarter, for instance, of the Iraqi forces ordered to come Baghdad to help the U.S. in the current operations to stop sectarian violence, only a quarter of those troops turned up.

And there is still great suspicion of the largely Shiite national police. They are corrupt. They have been infiltrated by militias. And many Shiites don't like these militias. And if not directly involved with death squads, the national police and the local police, who are pretty powerless, simply turn a blind eye to them. So I think it's a very mixed picture.

NORRIS: There has been a contentious debate in Iraq's Parliament over demands to decentralize the Iraqi government to give strong autonomy to the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north. I imagine there is also contentious debate among the public. What are you hearing?

GARRELS: Well the poll suggests ultimately that Iraqis do what a united country. And I thought that was actually one of the most interesting findings. And it certainly supports what were seeing in the Parliament and among the parties and on the streets. There is one Shiite party in particular, one of the governing Shiite parties, it's pushing hard for a Shiite autonomist region in the south which would control oil resources there.

But by no means all Shiite parties agree with this, at least for now. Sunnis certainly don't want this big Shiite autonomist region in the south. They feel they are going to be locked out in the center with no resources, no oil. The Kurds want federalism because their already semi-autonomist. But the Kurds too know that they need to have a united Iraq for now. Because as they put it, they've pretty ugly neighbors, Syria, Turkey, Iran, who don't want an independent Kurdistan. I think that was actually a pretty interesting response from Iraqis, that down the road they think they will still be a united country.

NORRIS: And given that this poll was conducted in a war torn country, how reliable are the results?

GARRELS: It's very difficult to go around this country under the best of circumstances. Many of the interviewers for polls in the past have been killed. I think there are definite restrictions in terms of where you can go. And there are restrictions in terms that the way the Iraqis will answer. I don't know exactly the details of how this poll was conducted, but I know this society.

NORRIS: Thank you, Anne.

GARRELS: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Anne Garrels speaking to us from Baghdad.

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