Iraqi soldiers reached the northern city of Mosul on Sunday for an operation against al-Qaida in Iraq, days after some 40 people were killed in a house explosion followed by a suicide attack against a senior police official.
The American military, meanwhile, reported two soldiers killed in separate bombings in Baghdad — one on a foot patrol Saturday near the northwestern area of Kazimiyah and another whose vehicle was struck Sunday by a roadside bomb in the city's northeast.
The United States has said Iraqi security forces will take the lead in Mosul as a major test of Washington's long-range plans, which seek to keep a smaller American force in Iraq as backup for local soldiers and police.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said most army reinforcements have reached the city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, although he declined to give a number.
"The operations against al-Qaida in Mosul will start soon," al-Askari said, adding that the operation would include armored vehicles, tanks and helicopters.
An Iraqi military officer in Mosul, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the operation, confirmed that some Iraqi units had arrived on the city's outskirts.
Civilians being recruited
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said separately that 3,000 residents in Mosul will be recruited to augment the city's police force.
The U.S. military did not indicate it had any plans to send additional forces to the city, which is believed to be the last urban safe haven for al-Qaida-led insurgents.
"Regarding Mosul, an area where we recognize is of strategic importance to al-Qaida, our operations will continue in that area again not in a new way but in a continued way," said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a military spokesman.
Smith said "tens of thousands of pounds of explosive material" were in the abandoned building that exploded Wednesday, devastating nearby houses and killing at least 34 people. But he declined to assign blame.
"We're still working with the Iraqi security forces to determine exactly what happened in terms of why it exploded or how it exploded," Smith said Sunday at a news conference.
The military has said al-Qaida was believed to be behind a suicide attack the next day that killed the Ninevah provincial police chief and two other officers as they toured the site of the blast.
Attackers kill Baghdad family
In other violence, a former city official was stabbed to death along with his wife and daughter in their home in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad, officials said Sunday.
The knife-wielding attackers stormed the two-story house late Saturday, killing Ahmed Jwad Hashim, his wife and their daughter, and leaving a visiting nephew seriously wounded, according to police and hospital officials.
Neighbors gathered outside the white clapboard doors and trim bushes surrounding the house told AP Television News that Hashim, a Shiite engineer from Karbala, had been the director-general of the Baghdad municipality office until he retired about four months ago.
The slaughter occurred in Talbiyah, a middle-class neighborhood on the fringes of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City.
Police and officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Overall violence has dropped dramatically in Baghdad and surrounding areas, a decline largely attributed to an influx of U.S. troops, a Sunni movement against al-Qaida in Iraq and a cease-fire order by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to his Mahdi Army militia.
But sporadic attacks continue and the U.S. military has warned that the reduced threat from al-Qaida has given way to nonsectarian crimes, including kidnapping, corruption and extortion.