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TAHRIR, Iraq — As Iraqi security forces continue to take the lead on missions in much of the country, the U.S. military has generally — and deliberately — slipped into the background.

But at an irritable area bordering Baqouba, where there are fears that recent gains made by an Iraqi-led offensive could be lost, the opposite has happened.

Manpower issues and a perceived lack of initiative by Iraqi police have forced soldiers with Company E, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, out of Vilseck, Germany, to patrol Tahrir mainly alone.

U.S. soldiers conduct daily missions in the town to keep the peace and deter enemies from trickling back. Local Iraqi police tend to hold down checkpoints at safer locations on the outskirts, soldiers say.

"It is frustrating," said Capt. Solon Webb, company commander, adding he has to focus more time spreading out his forces than targeting high-value targets.

Intelligence gathering has also been a difficult process with the scarce Iraqi police, whose police chief is a major sitting in a colonel slot, a two rank difference, he said.

"It’s not as free flowing," said Webb, 32, of Walnut Creek, Calif. "I still get the same amount but I have to work twice as hard to get it."

Iraqi police Maj. Sa’ad, the police chief of Tahrir, said he has only 122 policemen and needs twice that number to cover his jurisdiction.

"Tahrir is a big area. We need more IPs," Sa’ad said through a translator. "I need 250 to be ready to control this area."

He’s working on bringing more into his force, he said.

Sa’ad also denied that his policemen were avoiding the U.S. soldiers. "We always join with coalition forces and cooperate with them," he said. "If they need anything we help them."

Last week, soldiers held a knock-and-search raid in a troublesome sector of Tahrir. In the searches, which they call "block parties," soldiers asked Iraqis of any suspicious activity in the area and then snooped around the homes.

Second Lt. Richard Faille, 23 of Beverly, Mass., led his platoon of soldiers in the searches without police support despite inviting them.

Though he and his soldiers would prefer to do operations alone, their main mission is to bolster the Iraqi security forces so U.S. troops can leave the country, he said.

"They’re difficult to work with but it’s necessary," Faille said of the Iraqi police.

"We try to give them support and confidence," a hard thing to do when they don’t show up for joint missions, he added.

Many of the Iraqi police officers in town are Muslim and will be fasting during Ramadan, which begins Tuesday, said Webb, who predicted that fewer will show up for work.

In June, violence surged in Tahrir with suicide bombings, shootings and roadside bombs. The largely Sunni town, next to Diyala province’s governance center and its Iraqi police headquarters in Baqouba, became a popular hangout for insurgents.

"It’s an area where people love to prove a point," Webb said.

Iraqi security forces led an offensive starting in late July that cleared the area and got rid of U.S.-funded "Sons of Iraq" fighters. The city of roughly 75,000 residents was then left to U.S. soldiers and a limited supply of Iraqi police.

"I fear if we keep it sparse, the next couple of months could see an increase of enemy activity," Faille said. He said he has heard plans to boost the town’s Iraqi police numbers in the near future.

With or without the Iraqi police, Webb vows not to let the town fall into enemy’s hands.

"We won’t let it happen," he said. "We’re not going to give up this fight."


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