BAGHDAD – 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-Qaida in Iraq.
Al-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-Qaida in Iraq remains a serious threat.
“Today our forces started moving to Mosul,” al-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.
Iraqi and U.S. officials say insurgents have fled north from Baghdad and al-Anbar provinces under pressure from the American military offensive known as the surge and taken refuge in and around Mosul.
Some Iraqi officials were skeptical that al-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.”