QAYYARAH, Iraq - U.S. forces in the area around the northern city of Mosul are rebuilding the local police in the wake of a complete collapse of native forces last year.
"It all happened in two weeks," said Lt. Col. Bradley Becker.
Col. Becker commands the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Field Artillery Regiment, part of the 25th Infantry Division from Fort Lewis in Washington state.
Since October, the 2nd Battalion has patrolled the dusty approaches to Mosul, an area known to U.S. soldiers as Q-West after its most important town, Qayyarah.
Qayyarah, which is located along the Tigris River and the main Baghdad-Mosul highway, controls approaches to Mosul from the south. Police in Qayyarah are critical to keeping insurgents from reaching Mosul, an impoverished and ethnically divided city.
In the wake of a battle for Fallujah in November, Q-West, which had been relatively peaceful, "fell apart," said Maj. Kevin Murphy, Col. Becker's operations officer.
The Fallujah fight left hundreds of insurgents dead. Many of the survivors fled north to Mosul, which since has seen elevated levels of violence.
In continuing violence, suicide car bombings near Mosul killed 10 Iraqi civilians yesterday, the U.S. military said.
The insurgents' flight from Fallujah to Mosul coincided with Ramadan, the Muslim religious month of fasting, which last year inspired anti-American violence countrywide.
The result was bloodshed in Q-West late last year as the insurgency's center of gravity shifted north.
Police stations were attacked. Iraqi army bases were struck. Iraqi police and soldiers deserted by the thousands.
"I went from 2,000 police to 50," Col. Becker said, adding that there was a similar exodus in the Iraqi army. "Let me tell you, there were some sleepless nights."
After six months of intensive effort by the 2nd Battalion and other coalition forces, Iraqi forces in the area are back up to strength.
Officers say there are three battalions of 500 Iraqis each manning checkpoints and outposts in Q-West.
And hundreds of Iraqi police are operating out of new stations in Qayyarah and surrounding towns.