US, Iraqi troops target Mosul

United States and Iraqi troops pushed into insurgent-heavy neighbourhoods and stormed police stations in Mosul on Tuesday, launching an offensive to retake parts of this northern Iraqi city where militants staged a mass uprising last week in support of insurgents in Fallujah.

Mosul’s five bridges were closed to start the operation and American forces began securing police stations in the western part of Iraq’s third-largest city, said US Captain Angela Bowman, with Task Force Olympia.

“We are in the process of securing all of the police stations and returning the police to these stations to put in place a strong police presence,” she said. “Some of those stations are in neighbourhoods on the western side of the city where there has been insurgent activity and presence. We are now moving through the neighbourhood.”

Mortars struck two areas close to the local government building in the city centre, killing three civilians and injuring 25 others, hospital officials said.
A car bomb exploded on Tuesday near a US convoy in a Sunni Arab neighbourhood of western Mosul, but there was no word on casualties.

About 1 200 US soldiers were taking part in the offensive to recapture about a dozen police stations abandoned by Iraqi forces after an uprising that sprung up following the US-led attack on Fallujah in a week-old operation that has left at least 38 American troops and six Iraqi soldiers dead.

American officials estimate that 1 200 insurgents have been killed in the Fallujah fighting.

‘Shower the Americans with rockets’

Since the Fallujah attack began on November 8, insurgents have attacked police stations, Iraqi security forces, US military convoys and oil installations across a wide area of the Sunni Muslim heartland. Many insurgents are believed to have slipped out of the city ahead of the US onslaught.

In a speech found on Monday on the internet, a speaker said to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the country’s most feared terror leader, called on his followers to “shower” the Americans “with rockets and mortars” because US forces are spread too thin as they seek to “finish off Islam in Fallujah”.

On Tuesday, residents reported US warplanes and helicopters hovering over Mosul, a city of about one million, as loud explosions and gunfire were heard near the American base on the northern edge of the city, 360km north of Baghdad.

Witnesses said three police stations already under the control of insurgents were blown up this morning before the militants left.

The Zuhour police station, as well as a substation in north-eastern Mosul, was destroyed, along with the Qahira police station in the northern part of the city. No casualties were seen.

Residents also reported seeing two bullet-riddled bodies on a sidewalk in the Mafraq Domis area of eastern Mosul, one with a police identity card identifying him as Talal al-Jubori. Both were wearing civilian clothes, and one had bandages on his leg.

Last week, a mass insurgent uprising began in Mosul in apparent support of militants in Fallujah. Masked and armed bands of men stormed more than a half-dozen police stations, bridges and political offices in the city, clashing with US troops and Iraqi forces.

The city’s police force were overwhelmed, and in many places, failed even to put up a fight. Mosul Police Chief Brigadier General Mohammed Kheiri Barhawi was fired in the wake of criticism that some police forces had cooperated with insurgents during the attacks.

Reinforcements of about 300 Iraqi national guards pulled from garrisons along Iran and Syria and a battalion of a special police task force from Baghdad were sent to Mosul in the wake of the violence.

In addition, the US military recalled one infantry battalion that had been fighting in Fallujah to return to Mosul.

On Monday, a suicide driver detonated his car near an American military convoy in the western edge of Mosul, injuring five US soldiers. The driver first tried to ram his vehicle into the convoy but missed. A second car then tried to approach the same patrol, but the troops opened fire, killing the driver.

Videotaped shooting being investigated

Meanwhile, the US military was investigating videotaped pool pictures taken on Saturday by US television network NBC that shows a US marine shooting dead a wounded prisoner in a mosque in Fallujah. The footage was taken during an operation of the marines’ Third Battalion, First Regiment.

On the video, a marine can be heard shouting obscenities in the background, yelling that one of the men against the wall in the mosque is only pretending to be dead. It then briefly shows a marine raising his weapon toward one of the prisoners lying on the ground. The video is then blacked out, but the report of the gunfire can be heard.

The blacked-out portion of the videotape, provided later to Associated Press Television News and other members of the network pool, shows the bullet striking the man in the upper body, possibly the head. His blood splatters on the wall behind him and his body goes limp.

A spokesperson at Marine Corps headquarters in the Pentagon, Major Doug Powell, said in Washington that the incident is “being investigated”.

On Tuesday, the US military said in a statement that the First Marine Division is investigating an allegation of the unlawful use of force in the death of an enemy combatant in Fallujah during combat.

The marine has been withdrawn from the battlefield pending the results of the investigation.

“We follow the law of armed conflict and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability,” said Lieutenant General John F Sattler, commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force. “The facts of this case will be thoroughly pursued to make an informed decision and to protect the rights of all persons involved.”

Sunni party official raided

In Baghdad, US forces arrested Naseer Ayaef, a high-ranking member of an influential Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, in a dawn raid on his home, party official Ayad al-Samarrai said.

“This action is a kind of punishment to the [Iraqi] Islamic Party because we object to what is happening in Iraq, especially Fallujah, and to the security policies adopted by the Americans and the Iraqi government,” al-Samarrai said.

Ayaef is a member of the interim Iraqi national council, a government oversight body. Last week, the Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew from Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s government to protest the US assault, saying it “has led and will lead to more killings and genocide without mercy from the Americans”.—Sapa-AP

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