BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The streets of Baghdad are filled with anxiety and war-weariness -- much of it hinging on whether U.S. troops should go. Some say the sooner they get out, the better. Others say the Americans are needed to prevent a sectarian bloodbath.
This Iraqi woman lost her grown son to sectarian violence, and now helps raise his children.
"If they leave today, the militias will take control of the country. Neither the American soldiers or the Iraqi Army or the police can protect us," Monjed al-Naieb told CNN from his modest apartment in central Baghdad.
Al-Naieb represents a unique perspective here. He is Sunni and his wife is Shiite. Both blame the United States for creating chaos in Iraq and say the U.S. military should stick around to fix the nation.
They said they do not feel comfortable letting their three sons walk in Shiite neighborhoods anymore. One son changed his typically Sunni first name to the less distinctive "Ahmed" so that his ID card would not give him away to militias.
With debate raging in Washington and across America about an exit strategy for U.S. troops, it remains a hot topic of discussion on the streets of Iraq, where the effects of a pullout would be most acutely felt.
Most Iraqis who spoke to CNN said they follow U.S. political news closely. They said what happens in America and what is decided about the war in their country will have a direct impact on their lives. Watch Iraqis debate whether U.S. troops should stay or go »
There is no shortage of people who say the American troops should leave, and leave now.
"They came and destroyed the country, nothing less nothing more. It was them who started this sectarianism in the country," said a man who would not give his name in a majority Shiite neighborhood.
Many others agreed that continued American troop presence is hurting their country.
"It is true when they first came, they got rid of the former regime, the Baathists. They got rid of them, but they didn't provide us with security and stability in Iraq. They destroyed the Iraqi economy, they destroyed Iraq," another man said.
A poll conducted in late April of 4,992 Iraqis over the age of 18 found that one in every two polled believe the U.S. military's increased troop presence is making the situation in Baghdad "a great deal worse."
That belief was even higher among Baghdad residents. Seventy-three percent of those polled in Baghdad believed the troops are making the situation worse, compared to 11 percent who claimed the Americans are making things better.
At the same time, 51 percent said they prefer the current system over Saddam Hussein's reign compared to 23 percent who said they prefer the old regime, according to the poll, conducted by the British-based Opinion Research Business.
Iraq's leaders are feeling the heat -- both domestically and from abroad. Facing increasing pressure from the United States to do more internally, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday shot back at his critics, defending his government and the progress made by Iraqi security forces.
"We will be able to, God willing, completely take the full responsibility of the security situation when the international forces pull out -- anytime they want," he said.
The White House last Thursday reported mixed progress for al-Maliki's government on 18 U.S.-set benchmarks. The U.S. House later voted to require a troop withdrawal from Iraq by April 2008. Another progress report is due in September from Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq.
Hussein al-Fallouji, a Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament, told CNN the idea that the Iraqi government can meet the benchmarks in three months "is a mere illusion." He also blasted al-Maliki.
"Maliki cares so much about pleasing Bush, but he doesn't care one bit about his own parliament," he said.
Munthar Nader, a Shiite, lives at the same apartment complex as al-Naieb in central Baghdad. A former cab driver, Nader says he was shot while driving on the dangerous road between Baghdad and Mosul. His car was stolen after the attack and he said he is now unemployed.
Nader's brother was murdered last year in a sectarian killing. He disappeared on his way to work and Nader identified his body at the city morgue the next day.
Despite the violence his family has suffered, he says the Americans should stay in Iraq.
"If I do not see U.S. forces in front of me, I feel scared. Honestly, I feel scared," he said. "The terrorists [are] afraid of U.S. forces along with Iraqi forces, so I prefer for them to stay."
Nader now takes care of his brother's two children. His mother, who also lives with him, seemed too stricken with grief to care whether U.S. troops remain.
"The dearest person to me was killed and he was my son. Now I do not care about anything. His children became orphans," she said, crying.
Above the television set in the Nader household is a picture of a dead son and brother -- and the hopeless realization that no political benchmark or military strategy will ever bring him back. E-mail to a friend