Iraqi troops poised to strike Al Qaeda
BAGHDAD - Iraqi Army reinforcements moved yesterday into positions near the northern city of Mosul, ready to strike Al Qaeda in Iraq targets in their last urban stronghold, a top Iraqi officer said.
Major General Riyad Jalal, a senior officer in the Mosul region, said the additional forces were encamping in an Iraqi base near the city, and would open an offensive against Al Qaeda fighters "immediately after all the added troops arrive."
Iraqi and US officials have not said how many additional soldiers were headed toward Iraq's third-largest city, an important trade and transportation hub, after a massive bombing there last week badly damaged a poor neighborhood, killing 38 and wounding more than 200. A senior police official was killed the next day while inspecting the damage.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said most army reinforcements had reached the city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. "The operations against Al Qaeda in Mosul will start soon," he said. The Iraqi military planned to use armored vehicles, tanks, and helicopters.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said 3,000 residents in Mosul would be recruited to bolster the city's police force.
The US military, meanwhile, reported two soldiers killed over the weekend in separate bombings in Baghdad - one on a foot patrol Saturday near Kazimiyah and another whose vehicle was hit yesterday by a roadside bomb in northeastern Baghdad.
Both attacks occurred in predominantly Shi'ite Muslim neighborhoods.
The deaths raised to at least 3,934 the number of US military members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Thirty American forces have died in January, seven more than December when the monthly toll was the lowest since February 2004.
The US military does not plan to send additional forces to Mosul, which a military spokesman said earlier this month was the last urban safe haven for Al Qaeda-led insurgents.
The United States has said Iraqi security forces will take the lead in Mosul - a major test of Washington's plan to, at an undetermined date, shrink the American force and leave it as backup for Iraqi security forces.
"Regarding Mosul, an area we recognize is of strategic importance to Al Qaeda, our operations will continue in that area again not in a new way but in a continued way," said Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a military spokesman.
He also said there were "tens of thousands of pounds of explosive material" in the abandoned building that exploded Wednesday. He declined to assign blame, but Iraqi authorities quickly accused Al Qaeda.
In northeast Baghdad, a former city official was stabbed to death in his home along with his wife and daughter. They lived in Talbiyah, a middle-class, predominantly Shi'ite neighborhood near Sadr City, police said.
The knife-wielding attackers stormed the two-story house late Saturday, killing Ahmed Jwad Hashim, his wife, and their daughter. A visiting nephew was seriously wounded, police and hospital officials said.
Neighbors gathered outside the house told AP Television News that Hashim, a Shi'ite engineer from Karbala, had been the director general of the Baghdad municipality office until he retired about four months ago.