US and Iraqi forces have begun a new military offensive in northern Iraq aimed at rooting out al-Qaeda and other Sunni insurgents, US and Iraqi officials said on Sunday.
The offensive — dubbed Operation New Hope — has netted 84 suspects in the northern city of Mosul and surrounding towns, Iraqi Brigadier General Saeed Ahmed al-Jubouri said. Most of the arrests occurred in Tal Abta, about 80km west of Mosul.
Claims by Sunni Arabs and Kurds over disputed territory in the northern Ninevah Province have fueled significant violence in the area around the provincial capital of Mosul. US officials have called the city Iraq’s last major urban battleground in the war against insurgents.
US and Iraqi forces have staged many operations against insurgents in Mosul and other areas north of Baghdad where levels of violence remain high even as they have significantly dropped elsewhere in the country.
The offensive comes more than a year after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised a “decisive” battle in Mosul insurgents led by al-Qaeda in Iraq.
But Iraq’s third-largest city has continued to face violence, particularly against Iraqi security forces.
A roadside bomb struck an Iraq army patrol on Sunday in Mosul, killing two soldiers, including a lieutenant, and wounding three others, a police official at the Nineveh military command center said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.
Five other soldiers were killed and five were wounded when they stormed a booby-trapped house in the city late on Saturday, al-Jubouri said.
The US military said in a statement that the aim of the joint operation was to allow the government to restore essential services in Mosul.
“The ultimate goal of this operation is to eradicate al-Qaeda and other extremist groups,” it said.
Al-Jubouri said US troops were only providing support, if needed. He said the operation was being led by Iraqi security forces and that all police and army units in the province were participating in the operation.