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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm Don Gonyea.

In Iraq, American officials insist that al-Qaida is on the wane, but it's still a threat. Attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces take place almost daily. And the city of Mosul in northern Iraq is particularly dangerous.

NPR's Kelly McEvers recently traveled to Mosul and sent this report.

KELLY McEVERS: This used to be a thriving part of Mosul, a main thoroughfare of shops and apartment blocks west of the Tigris River. Now, checkpoints have now been set up every few hundred yards. Iraqi federal police salute their leader, Major General Mohammad Sabri Latif.

Even though the shops are now shuttered, the walls have been riddled with bullets, and the smell of garbage and rot hangs in the air, General Mohammad says he's trying to take the neighborhood back. His men stop every car that passes and check passengers' names against a so-called black list of wanted insurgents.

Major General MOHAMMAD SABRI LATIF (Commander, 3rd Iraqi National Police Division): (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: If they find one of the names, then they will arrest him right away.

McEVERS: Behind the general stands a small team of American troops. They wear regular-issue U.S. military fatigues but drive Humvees painted with Iraqi police colors and Iraqi flags.

According to the 2008 security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, Americans can no longer patrol Iraqi cities. But in Mosul, it's different.

Just in the past few days, grenades, roadside bombs and gunmen have killed and injured scores of Iraqi security forces here. On this day, the team has received reports of a roadside bomb that was planted in front of a hospital.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

McEVERS: The gunshots we just heard were Iraqi federal police, shooting at the explosive device in order to dismantle it.

Maj. Gen. LATIF: (Foreign language spoken)

McEVERS: General Mohammad orders his men away from the scene. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Reid describes the bomb.

Lieutenant Colonel DANIEL REID (U.S. Army): It was a water bottle that had been packed with homemade explosives and then filled the rest of the way with very small, sharp rocks, and then a cell phone initiator on it. Basically, a grenade with rock shrapnel.

McEVERS: In other words, a pretty amateur bomb, Reid says. That's why it didn't explode when the Iraqi police shot it.

Reid and other officers in the region say although low-level attacks continue daily, Sunni insurgent groups like al-Qaida and its umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, lack the sophistication they had back in the really violent years of 2006, '07 and '08.

Al-Qaida lost much momentum this April, when its two main leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in clashes with U.S. and Iraqi forces. Terrorism analysts say losing these two men meant losing any personal connection with top al-Qaida leaders who are hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Now, al-Qaida in Iraq might have decided that an Islamic state is no longer a viable goal, says Lieutenant Colonel Michael Marti, the senior U.S. intelligence officer here in the north.

Lieutenant Colonel MICHAEL MARTI (U.S. Army): What I think that they do think is viable is that they could at least cause enough either real degradation to security or create the perception of degraded security so that they have the ability to move and operate and still do things inside of Iraq.

McEVERS: Marti says former al-Qaida fighters are beginning to work with other Sunni insurgent groups that specifically target Americans and oppose Iraq's current, Shiite-dominated government. These groups hope they can force Shiite leaders to include Sunnis as they form a new government in the coming weeks.

Brian Fishman is a terrorism analyst at the Washington-based New America Foundation. He says just because al-Qaida's scope might have narrowed, it doesn't mean the group has disappeared.

Mr. BRIAN FISHMAN (Terrorism Analyst, New America Foundation): And it doesn't mean that they're not dangerous. It just means that they're less dangerous, and that the type of threat they pose has shifted.

McEVERS: That threat, he says, is not so much from foreign fighters who want to wage a global jihad, but from local ones who want to resolve their problems with violence.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

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