ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
U.S. forces are due to withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of this month under the terms of an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq. Across Iraq, violence is down. Still, there's considerable concern about the northern city of Mosul, which remains a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency. The question, once the U.S. withdraws, is how well Iraqi forces will perform. NPR's J.J. Sutherland was embedded with U.S. troops in Mosul, and he has this report.
J.J. SUTHERLAND: Nowadays, most American troops see Mosul this way - through the heavily armored windows of a heavy truck.
Sergeant CHRISTOPHER DUNNE: I mean, it's good, you know, that it's quiet and everything, because it means, you know, the Iraqis are, you know, taking over and everything, but for us it gets boring real quick.
SUTHERLAND: Sergeant Christopher Dunne says that when he first got here six months ago, he was out walking the streets on patrol all the time, not watching the city go by through the heavily armored windows of an MRAP. The number of attacks in Mosul has gone down from about 60 a day, a year ago, to less than 10, as has their lethality. Colonel Gary Volesky is the commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry. He says the number of car bombs and roadside bombs has decreased markedly.
Colonel GARY VOLESKY (Commander, 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry): Eighteen months ago you'd see four or five vehicle-borne IEDs in the city a day - deep buried IEDs of hundreds and hundreds of pounds (unintelligible), pipe bombs, three-pound explosives and some small arms fire. So security has gotten much better.
SUTHERLAND: Security is better, but it's still dangerous. Last Friday, an American soldier was killed and two wounded, when a grenade, perhaps homemade, was tossed into the gunner's hatch of their Humvee. Now, because of the status of forces agreement between Iraq and the United States, Volesky has to pull all of his combat troops out of the city by the end of June. He's negotiating with the Iraqi government, hoping to keep a few small bases open for training teams. He thinks they're needed. But…
Col. VOLESKY: It doesn't matter what my assessment is, it matters what the Iraqis think.
SUTHERLAND: And that's the key. One U.S. official told NPR the pullout from the cities is not a security issue, it's a political one. But while insurgent activity is down, U.S. commanders worry about a spike in violence after their troops leave the city center, even if they think leaving is ultimately a good idea. The key is just how well the Iraqi forces perform. Lieutenant Dylan Anderson(ph) leads the platoon of the 167, assigned to one sector of Mosul, working with the Iraqi army.
Lieutenant DYLAN ANDERSON: They're mostly checkpoint focused. They sit and watch traffic and check cars as they go through, and have a limited amount of floating manpower to do patrols and things. But we're trying to, you know, get them more involved and proactive.
SUTHERLAND: Today he's heading over to meet with Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Ibrahim Ali(ph), an Iraqi battalion commander. Colonel Ali says things have improved dramatically in his area of Mosul.
Lieutenant Colonel AHMED IBRAHIM ALI (Iraqi Battalion Commander): (Through Translator) It's a big improvement from since when we took charge of this area. Back then, we had car bombs, roadside bombs, bodies in the streets every day. Now it's one or two incidents a week. And he's confident in his forces' abilities, despite the imminent American withdrawal.
Lt. Col. ALI: (Through Translator) The American forces help us with training and with many operations. With them pulling out, nothing will change. One of Colonel Ali's soldiers, speaking out of his earshot, disagrees. His name is Alu Mohammed(ph). He says it's still chaotic, both in Mosul and in the Iraqi army, and he hopes the Americans don't leave.
Mr. ALU MOHAMMED: (Through Translator) We still need a long time. We have shortages in supply, numbers of men, intelligence, everything. But the Americans are committed to leaving the cities by June 30th, regardless.
As their patrols become a thing of the past, U.S. commanders hope that the Iraqi security forces can keep the relative peace in Mosul. Sergeant Dunne, a father of three, says it's like teaching a child to walk.
Sgt. DUNNE: I mean, it's the same concept. You know, if we keep babying them and doing everything for them, then they're not going to learn how to do it themselves. So it's just a learning process, and it's come a long way, but, you know, they still have to learn, you know, they're walking, now they have to learn how to run with it, you know?
SUTHERLAND: J.J. Sutherland, NPR News, Mosul, Iraq.
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