U.S., Iraqi troops launch offensive push to retake parts of Mosul from insurgents
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.S. and Iraqi troops pushed into insurgent-heavy neighborhoods 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 Capt. Angela Bowman, with Task Force Olympia.
“We are in the process of securing all of 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 neighborhoods on the western side of the city where there has been insurgent activity and presence. We are now moving through the neighborhood.”
About 1,200 U.S. 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 U.S.-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.
Since the Fallujah attack began Nov. 8, insurgents have attacked police stations, Iraqi security forces, U.S. military convoys and oil installations across a wide area of the Sunni Muslim heartland following the start of the Fallujah offensive and many insurgents were believed to have slipped out of the city ahead of the U.S. onslaught.
In a speech found 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 U.S. forces were spread too thin as they seek to “finish off Islam in Fallujah.”
On Tuesday, residents reported U.S. warplanes and helicopters hovering over Mosul, a city of about 1 million, as loud explosions and gunfire were heard near the American base on the northern edge of the city, 225 miles 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, and a substation in northeastern Mosul were destroyed, along with Qahira police station in the northern part of the city. No casualties were seen.
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 U.S. troops and Iraqi forces.
The city’s police force were overwhelmed, and in many places, failed to even put up a fight. Mosul Police Chief Brig. Gen. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military was investigating videotaped pool pictures taken Saturday by NBC that showed a U.S. Marine shooting dead a wounded prisoner in a mosque in Fallujah. The footage was taken during an operation of the Marines 3rd Battalion, 1st 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 was only pretending to be dead. It then briefly shows a Marine raising his weapon toward one of the inert prisoners. The video is then blacked out, but the report of the gunfire can be heard.
A spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters in the Pentagon, Maj. Doug Powell, said in Washington that the incident was “being investigated.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. military said in a statement that the 1st 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 Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commanding general of the 1st 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.”
In Baghdad, U.S. forces arrested a senior member of an influential Sunni political party Tuesday after a dawn raid on his home, party officials said.
Naseer Ayaef, a high-ranking member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was taken into custody in the northwestern Jamiah neighborhood in retaliation for the party’s opposition to the U.S.-led offensive on the rebel city of Fallujah, party official Ayad al-Samarrai told The Associated Press.
“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, a member of the interim Iraqi National Council, a government oversight body, was also part of the Fallujah delegation that tried and failed to negotiate peace talks with the central government.
Last week, the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the strongest Sunni political parties in the country had withdrawn from the interim government to protest the U.S. assault, saying it “has led and will lead to more killings and genocide without mercy from the Americans.”