By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 26, 2008
BAGHDAD, Jan. 25 -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Friday that Iraqi reinforcements have begun moving toward the northern city of Mosul for a "decisive" battle with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Maliki gave no details as to the number of troops or where they were coming from but said an Iraqi command center had opened in Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, to coordinate intensified efforts against insurgents in the city. He described the province as one of the last major places where al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a serious threat.
"Today our forces started moving to Mosul," Maliki said in a televised speech during a ceremony for victims of violence in the southern city of Karbala. "What we are planning in Nineveh will be decisive."
He spoke two days after security problems in Mosul, the third-largest Iraqi city, were punctuated by a massive bombing that killed at least 38 people. The following day, the police chief of the province was assassinated by a suicide bomber while he was inspecting the scene of the earlier attack.
Iraqi and U.S. officials say insurgents have fled north from Baghdad and Anbar provinces under pressure from the American military offensive known as the surge and taken refuge in and around Mosul.
"All terrorists in Iraq came to Mosul after being kicked out of the other provinces," said Duraid Kashmoula, Nineveh's governor. "Hopefully this statement from the prime minister will be implemented very soon."
Some Iraqi officials were skeptical that Maliki would commit to a large military effort in Mosul. An aide to the prime minister said the operation was in its "planning" stages.
"We have repeatedly demanded that he increase the number of troops in this city. We asked him that before the winter, but the government did not respond," said Mahama al-Shangali, a parliament member from Nineveh province. "They never respond."
Mohsen al-Sadoon, a Kurdish lawmaker from Mosul, said that although a ceremony had marked the opening of the operations center, the government had not named a commander and the facility was not functioning. He further doubted that the Iraqi security forces could defeat insurgents without the support of additional U.S. soldiers.
He noted that in addition to al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters, Mosul has remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and elements of the Sunni insurgent umbrella group Islamic State of Iraq. "There are also other gangs in the city," he said. "Thousands of Mosul's young men have fled the city because of the assassinations and the terrorism."
Other people blame Kurdish fighters known as pesh merga for instability in the ethnically diverse city. "They are acting in a dishonest way and they are aggressive with the people," said Osama Nujeifi, a Sunni parliament member from Mosul. "If they bar the pesh merga from Mosul, security will be achieved very soon."
Some American officers disputed the idea that Mosul had grown more dangerous in recent months. Lt. Col. Michael J. Simmering, executive officer of the U.S. regiment based in Mosul, wrote in an e-mail that "the perception that Mosul is less secure than it was six months ago is absolutely false. It is all relative to the security situation in the rest of the country."
Special correspondent Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.