By James Reynolds
BBC News, in Mosul, northern Iraq
A helmet sits on a desk next to a broken safe. Amid pools of mud there are discarded papers. There is nobody around.
Police stations lie in ruins in the northern Iraqi city
Bullet holes through the window pane. A mattress on a table.
This is an Iraqi police station in Mosul - one of many that have been
abandoned in the last few days.
This has become the most immediate problem facing US forces in this city. In early November, insurgents carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks against local police stations.
They occupied and ransacked buildings, taking with them anything worth keeping including uniforms, weapons, radios and police cars.
The attacks caused the police force to collapse. The chief of police has left his job.
The soldiers moved quickly. People working in nearby fields watched, but no one waved
US commanders estimate that more than three quarters of local policemen are no longer showing up for work.
The attacks on police stations punched a hole through the US strategy for Mosul.
US forces had wanted to take a back seat in policing and controlling this city. They wanted Iraqi forces to do the job themselves.
But the insurgents have attacked and the strategy hasn't worked.
So the US army has had to move back into the front seat while
it works out how to fix its problems.
And it needs to work quickly. Elections have been set for January.
At the moment commanders say that it isn't safe for the Iraqi electoral commission to distribute electoral materials in this city.
However, it is worth saying that, as things stand right now, Mosul isn't another Falluja.
Insurgents have not kept US forces out of this city.
I've joined the army on a series of raids and patrols. We drive through Mosul in heavily-armed convoys, on the lookout in case of ambush.
Occasionally, the soldiers get out to go on foot, keeping their weapons
ready at all times.
I followed one squad as they went to inspect some wasteland for weapons caches.
The soldiers moved quickly. People working in nearby fields watched, but no one waved.
At no point did US soldiers and Iraqis get closer than about 30 metres to
one another. Neither acknowledged the other in any way.
Many of the US troops in Mosul have only been here for about a month.
Few have learned more than a few words of Arabic. Few have any direct contact with the local population.
Among the soldiers I've met there is some curiosity about the people they are policing, together with a degree of frustration and pity.
However there seems to be real scorn for the local Iraqi forces they are meant to be working with.
Soldiers say they only really trust the Kurdish officers who have been brought in with the Iraqi National Guard.
This is the city where US forces killed the sons of Saddam.
Last year the Americans thought they had fought off their enemies and freed Mosul for good.
But now the city is back under nightly curfew. Many Iraqis still live amid fear and uncertainty.
And the Americans have found their way into another fight.