BAGHDAD - Iraqi forces have detained more than 1,000 suspects in an offensive aimed at crushing Al-Qaeda in northern Iraq, the military commander of the operation said on Saturday.
Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki returned to Baghdad on Saturday after spending several days in the city of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province to supervise the crackdown.
Many gunmen from Sunni Islamist Al-Qaeda have regrouped in Nineveh after being pushed out of other areas. The US military says Mosul is Al-Qaeda’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
Lieutenant-General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, head of the Iraqi-led offensive that began a week ago, said 1,068 suspects had been detained so far.
“This operation will last until we finish off all the terrorist remnants and outlaws,” he said.
On Friday, Maliki said fighters who handed in their weapons within 10 days would be given an amnesty and unspecified cash rewards. His offer applies to gunmen who have not killed anyone.
An influx of additional US troops last year and a decision by Sunni Arab tribes to turn against Al-Qaeda has enabled US and Iraqi forces to push the militants out of Baghdad and into Anbar, their former strongholds.
The Iraqi military wants to repeat that success in Mosul.
In late March, Maliki took control of a military operation against Shiite militias in the southern oil city of Basra. The operation started badly, as the Mehdi Army of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr put up fierce resistance.
Iraqi troops, backed by the US military, gradually took control of Basra but fighting spread to Baghdad, drawing security forces into daily gun battles with militiamen affiliated with Sadr.
A week-old truce deal between Sadr’s parliamentary bloc and the ruling Shiite alliance has helped ease fighting, especially in capital’s Shi’ite slum of Sadr City, a Mehdi Army bastion.
Residents said Sadr City was quiet on Saturday. Police said they were able to start clearing streets of roadside bombs. The renewed fighting with the Mehdi Army thrust the Iraq war back to the centre of the US presidential election campaign.
Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for talks with Iraqi and American officials, a US embassy spokeswoman said.
“She is in Baghdad for talks with US officials and representatives of the Iraqi government,” spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said. -Agencies