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Iraq: Government Ready For 'Decisive' Battle With Al-Qaeda --> Scene of the January 23 bombing (epa) Following two days of deadly bombings in Iraq's third-largest city, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has announced the start of a major offensive against Al-Qaeda militants in the northern city of Mosul.

Al-Maliki said a number of Iraqi troops were moving toward Mosul to push the Al-Qaeda fighters from the area. He promised a "decisive" battle, but gave no details on troop strength or when the additional forces would arrive.

Speaking on January 25 in the Shi'ite city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, al-Maliki also warned that the national army was now a powerful force.

Al-Qaeda was blamed for a massive explosion in Mosul on January 23 that killed at least 34 people. The blast leveled a three-story apartment building, wounding around 200 bystanders.

The explosion occurred when troops surrounded the building following a tip about a suspected arms cache inside.

The next day, a local police chief, Brigadier General Salih Muhammad Hassan, and two officers died in an ambush after they toured the scene of the explosion.

Mosul, 360 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, is the capital of Ninawa Governorate and a transport crossroads between Baghdad, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

The ethnically mixed city has seen an upsurge in violence in the past year.

The increased violence appears to be a consequence of offensives by U.S.-led forces in and around Baghdad, the vast western Al-Anbar Governorate, and other central regions, which have forced Al-Qaeda to move to areas further north.

U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith earlier this week called Mosul a hub for both insurgent financing and foreign fighters.

Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Muhammad al-Askari said security in Mosul was "very weak," and that security forces there need to be reinforced.

According to police spokesman Sa'id al-Juburi, only 3,000 policemen operate in Mosul, a city of nearly 2 million.

Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf said the Mosul push would include 3,000 extra police.

An unidentified Defense Ministry official was quoted as saying that several thousand Iraqi soldiers also would be dispatched from Baghdad and Al-Anbar.
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