New York Times
January 26, 2008
By Stephen Farrell and Michael R. Gordon
BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced Friday that he was sending more forces to Mosul for what he vowed would be a “decisive” struggle to rid the city of insurgents.
Mr. Maliki’s remarks, which came in the wake of successive bombings in Mosul, a northern city of 1.7 million, appeared intended to reassure Iraqis that the government was able to protect them against a resilient insurgent threat.
By promising to drive militants from the city, however, Mr. Maliki has established a challenging test for Iraq’s security forces.
Mosul, the capital of Nineveh Province, has long been an important hub for militants from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a predominantly Iraqi group that American intelligence says is foreign-led.
While the level of violence has gone down in many parts of Iraq, it has increased somewhat in Nineveh over the past year. That rise has taken place as many insurgents have moved into the province, prompted by American-led operations to the south in Baghdad and Diyala Province and by the new alignment of Sunni tribes and American forces in Anbar Province.
Adding to the challenge for the Iraqi government is the relatively small number of American troops in Mosul. Some 7,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers are in the city, about seven times the number of American troops, according to an estimate in December by an American officer there.
Even before this week’s bombings, the Iraqi government had taken steps to strengthen its forces in the city. A battalion from Iraq’s Second Division that had been moved to Baghdad was shifted back to Mosul, with a second battalion to follow in the next several weeks. An Iraqi battalion generally has about 700 soldiers.
In an effort to improve coordination among the Iraqi forces, Mr. Maliki recently appointed Maj. Gen. Riyadh Jala to serve as commander of the Nineveh Operational Command, which oversees Iraqi troops, police and border forces in the province.
Additional steps are being planned, according to an American officer in Iraq. Two more Iraqi battalions will probably go to western Nineveh Province from Baghdad in the next month or so. And Iraqi national police and special operations forces in Baghdad will also probably move to Nineveh, said the officer, who declined to be identified because he was discussing plans that had not been publicly disclosed.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman in Baghdad, told The Associated Press that 3,000 police officers were being dispatched to reinforce Mosul, but he did not say when they would arrive.
The recent surge of violence spiked on Wednesday when a huge blast killed more than 30 people as Iraqi soldiers entered a building packed with explosives by insurgents. The next day the provincial police chief was killed by a suicide bomber while visiting the site. After the second attack, the provincial governor, Duraid Kashmola, declared an emergency curfew in the city.
Reacting to widespread anger in Mosul, some of it directed at the security forces for failing to avert the explosion on Wednesday, Mr. Maliki voted to “finish the last battle with Al Qaeda, the gangs and the remnants of the past regime.”
“We have defeated Al Qaeda, and there is only Nineveh and Kirkuk left where the terrorists have fled to,” Mr. Maliki said in the southern city of Karbala. “Today the forces started to move to Mosul, and the battle will be final.”
By most accounts, the struggle is likely to be challenging and unlikely to be final. Sunni insurgents have long been active in Nineveh. The province borders Syria, which has been a conduit for foreign fighters, and is a region marked by tensions between Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
The United States Army’s 101st Airborne Division cornered and killed Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s sons, in Mosul in 2003. In 2004, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni militants forced from Falluja streamed to Mosul and sought to open a second front there. Many of the local police officers fled, which left the city under insurgent control until Kurdish pesh merga troops established order.
With the increase in American operations in and around Baghdad, insurgents have again moved into Nineveh. Abu Ayyub-al Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has twice slipped in and out of Mosul over the past six months to try to rally the militants there, according to American officials.
Mr. Kashmola, who has threatened to resign as provincial governor more than once over what he has called the government’s failure to take on insurgents in Mosul, said reinforcements were needed. “The military campaign announced by Maliki comes too late, but I excuse him because he was busy with Baghdad and other provinces,” he said on Friday. “Now it is Mosul’s time.”
Brig. Karim Khalaf al-Jabouri, a commander of police operations in Mosul, said the additional forces had yet to arrive.
“Until this moment, no military trucks have entered Mosul and not even a single policeman or soldier from outside the province,” he said in a telephone interview. “We are fighting with our own forces and we didn’t get any kind of support at all. Nothing has changed at all except for the curfew.”
Brigadier Jabouri said his men were getting “very good support from the Americans as they cooperate closely with both police and army forces, and we depend on their help a lot.”
An Interior Ministry official in Mosul said that the explosion on Wednesday happened near a bridge in Mosul under which insurgents were hanging the bodies of their victims every morning to intimidate residents.
The official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on the record, said that Iraqi and American soldiers had tried to set up two towers nearby from which snipers could shoot those responsible for the killings, but that the insurgents destroyed the towers with rocket-propelled grenades.
“The Iraqi Army then chose this three-story building to put snipers on the roof,” he said. “The gunmen took advantage of the fact that the ground floor includes shops that sell grains, sugar and flour to smuggle in their bombs and improvised explosive devices.”
He said the building, originally thought to be a bomb factory, was blown up as Iraqi soldiers went in to defuse the bombs. Stephen Farrell reported from Baghdad, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Khalid al-Ansary, Ahmad Fadam, Mudhafer al-Husaini and Abeer Mohammed from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Mosul.