BAGHDAD - Iraqi taxi driver Haitham Nief is looking forward to the partial pull out of U.S. combat troops this month from the northern city of Mosul and elsewhere.
Mosul remains one of the most violent places in Iraq, but Nief says he is sure the security situation will improve once the Americans leave town and withdraw to camps outside.
"Anyone who wants to fight them can go there and attack their bases without harming civilians," he said.
Across the war-battered country, a June 30 deadline for most U.S. troops to pull out of cities and into their bases is prompting fears of a surge in violence and worries that Iraqi security forces may not be up to the job on their own.
But the anxiety is also tinged by hope the U.S. pull back will usher in an end to conflict and trigger economic revival.
Six years after U.S. soldiers invaded to topple Saddam Hussein, 28-year-old Iraqi market porter Ahmed Salih just wants them to go home.
"Life here is dead because of their presence," he said, gesturing around him at the once busy Dawasa market, the scene of many explosions and shootings in Mosul. "We are full of desperation ... no jobs, no income, just because of them."
Violence has dropped sharply across Iraq in the past year. Some of the credit can be given to the U.S. military, and a strategy to boost the presence of U.S. troops in urban areas where fighting once raged.
But insurgents including Sunni Islamist al Qaeda still launch deadly attacks on U.S. forces, Iraqi police and civilians in a bid to trigger renewed sectarian bloodshed and undermine Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government.
As U.S. soldiers draw back from towns and cities, the pressure is being piled on local forces ahead of a parliamentary election in January that will be a test of whether Iraqis can live together after the years of turmoil triggered by the war.
The government says it is confident its forces will cope.
It will be a big challenge.
On Saturday, a suicide truck bomb killed more than 70 people outside a mosque near the northern city of Kirkuk. Earlier this month, a car bomb tore through a quiet Shi'ite town in the south, killing more than 30 people, and an assassin murdered the head of parliament's biggest Sunni bloc.
In Kirkuk, claimed by northern Iraq's Kurds as their ancestral capital, some fear the police are allied to politicians, or that political parties with armed militias could leap to fill any security vacuum after the Americans leave.
"Some people are afraid that the situation could become worse," said Kirkuk-based political analyst Abd al-Rahman Taleb.
In the capital Baghdad, some businesses hope reduced security measures, such as checkpoints, will boost profits.
At the Baghdad Hotel, a forest of barbed wire blocks the front gate. Travel agencies and other hotel shops nearby are crumbling, their windows boarded, letters falling off signs.
"We're very happy. This hotel has a great history, but it was strangled by U.S. roadblocks. The Americans were staying in rooms near the hotel, and no one could come in except the staff," said hotel manager Amir Hussein Salman.
"You couldn't speak or reason with the Americans."
In Abu Nawas, a palm tree-lined park popular with families on the east bank of the Tigris, Haji Hussein, owner of the Baghdadi Restaurant, said Iraqi forces who took over checkpoints in the area last month were not searching vehicles thoroughly.
Previously, the entrances had been manned by teams of security contractors hired by the U.S. military.
Hussein said the restaurant would not let vehicles park near it because of the danger of car bombs.
"It's not a question of whether we prefer security provided by Iraqis or Americans, it's a question of professionalism. But if the Iraqis were professional, then that's better, because we can speak to them," he said.