MOSUL, Iraq — Before U.S. forces built Combat Outpost Rasalah, the intersection where it now sits was ground zero for insurgent violence in the western half of this northern city that U.S. officials say is the last urban stronghold for al-Qaida and other Sunni militant groups in Iraq.

“This was the epicenter of the bad neighborhoods on the west side of Mosul,” said Capt. William Nance, commander of Heavy Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, pointing to the outpost’s location on a map before a recent patrol. “We’ve seen a lot of fights start and a lot of fights end around Rasalah.”

U.S. forces built Rasalah a little over two weeks ago. It doesn’t look like much. There’s a patch of muddy ground that will barely hold a half-dozen Humvees. There’s a large tent surrounded by concrete blast walls, a couple of machine gun nests. The perimeter consists of earthen barriers encased in wire.

But Iraqi troops now occupy the small fort around the clock, and their presence has made a huge difference.

“Because the insurgents live in the outskirts and commute to the fight, that makes control of these intersections that much more important,” said Nance, 28, of Copperas Cove, Texas. “What these COPs (combat outposts) are doing is creating spheres of control, and we’re pushing insurgents out of these neighborhoods.”

Insurgents used to fire on U.S. troops or hit them with bombs every time they passed through Rasalah, said Nance, but since the combat outpost has gone up, enemy contact in the area has dropped dramatically.

During a patrol Saturday with Iraqi forces, the battle-scarred streets around Rasalah were largely empty, but quiet. A couple of blocks over, sidewalk markets were doing business again, their stalls overflowing with fruits, vegetables, cooking oil, shoes and clothes and various other items. It appeared to be a city coming back to life, albeit tentatively, amid the ruins of war.

U.S. and Iraqi troops drove to a nearby street with houses hidden behind high whitewashed walls. They got out of their Humvees to talk to local residents. An Iraqi soldier passed out fliers to a group of young boys who pressed eagerly upon him. The fliers, printed to look like a small Iraqi flag, urged readers not cooperate with terrorists. There was a hot line for calling in tips.

The soldiers with Heavy Troop go on patrol with their Iraqi counterparts almost daily. But their presence is still a novelty in many places, said Sgt. 1st Class John Guy.

“The Iraqis in this neighborhood aren’t used to seeing the Iraqi army,” said Guy, 37, of Georgetown, Texas.

In one house, Iraqi Lt. Riyad talked to a middle-aged man and his family. He wrote down his mobile phone number for them and urged them not to hesitate to call.

“Don’t be afraid of us,” the lieutenant said. “We’re the Iraqi army. Here is my phone number. Any problems you have, just call me.”

First Lt. Tom Blackburn, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, Heavy Company, echoed his Iraqi comrade’s comments.

“We here in this area now,” said Blackburn, 24, of Indianapolis. “We’re here to help you.”

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