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Stabilizing Iraq: Why Mosul is a special case

The fatal shooting of a young man on a crowded downtown street illustrates why Americans could have trouble completely leaving this troubled provincial capital.

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The security pact stipulates that US troops will get involved only if the Iraqis ask for assistance.

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"They're doing everything they're supposed to be doing. You can see we're not doing anything," says Capt. Ben Ferguson, a company commander for the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment as he watched the ERB deal with the shooting.

'Our biggest problem is assassinations'

An hour earlier at the ERB's company headquarters, Captain Ferguson came by to pick up Iraqi officers for a foot patrol in Ras al-Koor, where the ancient narrow streets wind their way to a crowded market.

"You interrupted the movie – now I won't get to see the end of it," the ERB company commander jokingly complained. Outside it was more than 100 degrees. Inside, in the air-conditioned cool of his office in the school they'd taken over, 'Wayne's World' – subtitled in Arabic – played on the television screen.

"Our biggest problem is assassinations," said the Iraqi company commander, a former Iraqi Army officer from Mosul with a degree in political science who did not want his name to be used.

He said they needed more officers and more resources and complained that in the densely packed neighborhood they were responsible for, they couldn't shoot at insurgents because they might hit civilians.

"And even then we're only supposed to shoot them in the legs," he said.

"I think we're doing the same job that we're doing now – it's just the frequency might change," said Ferguson, who has received three purple hearts for being wounded here and in Afghanistan since 2004. "We're at their beck and call."

'Is anything normal here?'

An Iraqi lieutenant led a dozen of his men out into the street with the US soldiers to walk through the twisting alleys. It was just before they reached the rows of stalls with wooden carts displaying fresh fish, shots rang out and a radio call came through that the young Iraqi man had been killed.

At the traffic circle where the young man's body had been brought, security people had their own view of what had happened. "This happens daily – I think it's all Iranian," said an Iraqi officer named Khalid.

Shopkeepers stood on the sidewalk to get a better view, many of them looking sullenly at the American soldiers.

"We leave home in the morning and don't know if we'll return at night," said restaurant owner Ali Wadallah. "You see the situation – is anything normal here?"