WASHINGTON – Nearly three out of every four American troops serving in Iraq think U.S. forces should withdraw within a year, and more than one in four say the United States should leave immediately, according to a new poll published Tuesday.

The poll, conducted by Zogby International and the Center for Peace and Global Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., was a rare effort to gauge the views of American troops serving in a ground war.

Twenty-nine percent of the troops surveyed said U.S. forces should leave Iraq immediately, another 22 percent said they should leave within the next six months and 21 percent said within six to 12 months. Twenty-three percent agreed with President Bush’s call for troops to stay “as long as they are needed” and 5 percent were unsure.

David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland, said that while most service members were more conservative than society as a whole, it wasn’t surprising to see them reflect attitudes similar to civilians, who increasingly oppose the war.

Those views aren’t necessarily an indication that troops are losing faith in the war, Segal said. “One could argue that troops are saying, “Hey, we’ve accomplished a great deal. It’s time to get out,’ which is what you hear a lot of people in Washington saying,” he said.

According to Zogby International, the survey consisted of 944 military respondents who were interviewed face to face at several locations throughout Iraq from Jan. 18 through Feb. 14. The names of those interviewed and where they were interviewed weren’t disclosed. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

The survey was conducted without the Pentagon’s permission, and some military officials privately questioned its validity, since troops in a combat zone are likely to express negative views of their situation. “The poll’s findings certainly aren’t reflective of the attitudes we see displayed by the majority of troops, who are performing in a remarkable manner in a combat situation far from home,” said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman.

American soldiers in Iraq, in interviews with Knight Ridder, frequently have expressed discontent with the situation there. They’ve cited too few soldiers to control the insurgency, a lack of equipment and pessimism about the success of the mission.

Other main findings from the survey:

• 85 percent of those surveyed believed that the war was “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” although the 9-11 commission in 2004 found “no credible evidence” that Iraq had cooperated with al-Qaida in the attacks.

• 68 percent believed that the real reason for the war was to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

• 58 percent said the current mission was clear, and 42 percent said it was unclear.

-About 2 in 5 saw the Iraqi insurgency as mostly homegrown, with very little foreign involvement.

-53 percent said the United States should double the number of troops and bombing missions to control the insurgency.

-55 percent opposed using harsh interrogation methods on prisoners.

-43 percent said their armor and equipment were adequate.

While 89 percent of Army reservists and 82 percent of National Guardsmen said the United States should leave Iraq within a year, 70 percent of regular Army troops thought that American forces should withdraw within that time frame.

Of regular soldiers who said that, nearly 28 percent thought American forces should leave immediately.

A little more than 25 percent of regular Army troops said U.S. forces should stay as long as necessary.

Forty-nine percent of Marines said the United States should leave Iraq within 12 months. More than 37 percent said U.S. forces should stay as long as they’re needed. Only 9 percent of Marines thought there should be an immediate pullout.

(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-02-28-06 1857EST

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