Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared ”final war” on al-Qaeda on Friday after dozens of people including a police chief were killed in bomb attacks blamed on the jihadists in Mosul city.
Iraqi forces were moving towards Mosul, 370km north of Baghdad, for a major assault that would become a ”decisive battle”, Maliki told a gathering in the central shrine city of Karbala.
At least 35 people were killed and 217 wounded in a massive bomb attack on Wednesday that obliterated a building and destroyed houses in Mosul, Iraq’s third main city and capital of Nineveh province.
A suicide bomber on Thursday killed provincial police chief Brigadier General Salah al-Juburi and two other officers when they went to inspect the previous day’s carnage.
”We have formed an operations centre in Nineveh [province] for a final war against al-Qaeda and the remnants of the former [Saddam Hussein] regime,” Maliki said.
”Today [Friday] our forces are moving towards Mosul. What we have planned in Nineveh will be final. It will be a decisive battle,” he said.
”The crime committed by al-Qaeda on Wednesday in Nineveh is just the last remains of their resources. We have defeated al-Qaeda in Iraq and only Nineveh remains.”
He warned that the Iraqi army was now a powerful force.
”We have a real Iraqi army. I want to say that to all those people who think they can do things in front of the Iraqi security forces that those days have gone.”
United States intelligence experts warn that Mosul remains a dangerous ”strategic centre of gravity for al-Qaeda” due to its road links to the Syrian border, which most foreign fighters coming into Iraq use as their springboard.
The jihadists can easily blend in with the local population, they say.
Three weeks ago, US and Iraqi forces launched a fresh assault against al-Qaeda operatives, blamed for much of the violence in Iraq.
On Thursday, Maliki issued an angry statement saying that those behind the Mosul attacks would be hunted down and brought to justice.
”This crime exposes the moral bankruptcy of the terrorists after a string of defeats at the hands of our armed forces,” he said.
Karbala, 100km south of Baghdad where Maliki was speaking on Friday, has also been the scene of violence, with insurgents late on Thursday attempting to kill a leading Shiite cleric.
Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai survived the bomb attack on his convoy but two of his bodyguards were killed, officials said.
Another four guards were wounded.
Karbalai is the Karbala representative of Iraq’s Shi’ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and often leads Friday prayers in the Imam Hussein mosque, one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines.
Speaking of the attack, Maliki said it was the work of ”foreign intelligence services, ignorant people and remaining loyalists of the former regime”. — AFP