MOSUL, Iraq — The Iraqi Army colonel glowered at his newest captain. Looking small and lost in his oversized new uniform, the captain conceded that he was an untrained civilian who'd been sent to Iraq's most violent city by one of the political parties in Baghdad that's vying for control of the country's security forces.
The Iraqi division that will assume responsibility for security in a swath of Mosul when American combat forces withdraw later this month has been assigned 69 such political appointees recently, said Col. Abdul Aziz Salahuddin.
Then he made a pistol of his fingers and pointed it at his temple. "I'll kill myself if the Iraqi Army is starting down this path," Salahuddin said. "This man has no experience; he's no use."
While political leaders in Baghdad hail the scheduled June 30 withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq's major cities, many Iraqi soldiers in Mosul say they're not ready to defeat the insurgents by themselves.
Some complain that the Army is so politicized that it lacks the leadership necessary to fight a determined insurgency. Others say they don't have the weapons and ammunition they need to defend themselves from al Qaida in Iraq fighters who retreated north to Mosul after a nationwide security crackdown.
Last week, an Iraqi soldier guarding city workers in one of Mosul's most violent neighborhoods showed an American platoon his Kalashnikov rifle. "It doesn't work, and we don't have bullets for it," said 28-year-old Sgt. Salam Omran.
Nevertheless, U.S. forces have begun to withdraw from their combat outposts in Iraq's cities to more secure bases on the outskirts. Camp Marez outside Mosul will be welcome relief. It has soft beds, an air-conditioned gym and a well-stocked dining hall that offers made-to-order fruit smoothies.
For most Iraqis, tormented by the collapse of civil society after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and humiliated by six years of foreign occupation, June 30 will be an even greater reason to celebrate.
"The joy and happiness should spread in Iraqi ceremonies," Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki told hundreds of military and police commanders at a Thursday meeting. "The plan of withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraqi lands is started."
However, the security conference in Baghdad's Green Zone came a day after a car bomb killed 35 people near Nasiriyah, one of the safest cities in the country. Maliki blamed the attack on Sunni insurgents trying to reignite the sectarian bloodshed that engulfed Iraq from late 2005 until the end of 2007.
Maliki warned that violence could increase as American forces withdraw and insurgents test the Iraqi army, but he vowed that the relative stability gained during the last year and a half would hold.
Politicians in Mosul are more skeptical. "The issue depends upon the cooperation of the citizens with the security forces," said Osama al Najaifi, a Sunni parliament member from Mosul. "I cannot say that we are satisfied with their training or arming, but if these gaps can be filled and if the security forces can stay away from politics, I believe they may succeed."
Col. Salahuddin, however, isn't confident about what will happen after June 30. "I will cry; everything we worry about will come true," he said. "The Iraqis can't help the situation. The problems are already starting."