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Iraqis are scared to travel to Diyala, a province that experiences bombings and killings on a regular basis.

"It is still not a safe place" was what many people told Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr on a visit to Diyala, despite the fact that Iraqi security forces and US troops have a heavy presence in the area, particularly in Baquba, the provincial capital.

But soon US troops will leave and those who are meant to protect are viewed with suspicion.

"The Iraqi police is infiltrated by armed groups," Abdel Hussein Ali Damouk, Diyala's police chief, told me.

"We have made a number of arrests including officers.

"We are now checking the background of each policeman ... the problem was they were hired by security agencies without any security checks because we needed a force in place as soon as possible."

Such an admission coming from the head of the force is an indication of the challenges ahead, just months before US combat troops withdraw under an agreement with the Iraqi government.

Diyala is one of the few provinces where the US military still supports Iraqi forces.

Undoubtedly, security has improved when compared to previous years, but provincial and security officials in Baquba admit al-Qaeda and other armed groups are still able to operate in this rural region.

Sectarian killings were common from 2005 until mid-2008 and al-Qaeda and other armed groups controlled much of Diyala.

That may be in the past but the struggle for power remains, our correspondent says.

Iraqi politicians have still been unable to form a government almost three months after national elections.

It is a time of political uncertainty, and in August when US combat troops pull out, Iraqi forces which will solely be in charge of pacifying the region.

To succeed, they will have to make sure they are all on the same side.

Source: Al Jazeera