BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. and Iraqi troops stormed insurgent-held police stations and neighborhoods Tuesday, launching an offensive to retake parts of this northern Iraqi city where gunmen staged a mass uprising last week in support of fighters in Fallujah.
Troops secured several police stations by the mid-afternoon, meeting "very little resistance," the U.S. military said. Witnesses said insurgents blew up three stations they were holding before abandoning them ahead of the U.S. assault.
U.S. warplanes and helicopters hovered over Mosul Iraq's third largest city, with about 1 million residents as loud explosions and gunfire were heard. About 1,200 U.S. soldiers were taking part in the offensive to recapture about a dozen police stations abandoned by Iraqi forces in the uprising.
Mortars struck two areas near the main government building in the city center, killing three civilians and injuring 25 others, hospital officials said. A car bomb exploded near a U.S. convoy in a Sunni Arab neighborhood of western Mosul, wounding one U.S. soldiers, the military said.
The uprising swept across Mosul 225 miles north of Baghdad amid a wave of violence across north and central Iraq following the U.S.-led attack on Fallujah, the insurgents' strongest bastion, west of Baghdad. The week-old Fallujah offensive has killed at least 38 American troops and six Iraqi soldiers. American officials estimate that 1,200 insurgents have been killed in the Fallujah fighting.
But many insurgents are thought to have slipped out of Fallujah 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."
The U.S.-Iraqi assault in Mosul aimed to push back the uprising last week by gunmen who stormed police stations, bridges and political offices. The city's police force was overwhelmed and, in many places, failed to even put up a fight. Mosul Police Chief Brig. Gen. Mohammed Kheiri Barhawi was fired amid criticism that some police cooperated with insurgents.
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. The U.S. military recalled one infantry battalion that had been fighting in Fallujah to return to Mosul.
On Tuesday, Mosul's five bridges were closed to start the operation, and American forces began securing police stations in the western part of the city, said U.S. Capt. Angela Bowman, with Task Force Olympia.
"We are in the process of securing all of the police stations and returning the police to these stations," she said.
Residents reported seeing two bullet-riddled bodies on a sidewalk in the Mafraq Domis area of eastern Mosul, one with a police ID card identifying him as Talal al-Jubori. Both were wearing civilian clothes, and one had bandages on his leg.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it was investigating the fatal shooting of a wounded "enemy combatant" by a U.S. Marine in a mosque in Fallujah. The inquiry was begun after videotaped pool pictures taken Saturday by NBC showed the incident 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 men lying on the ground.
The video, provided later to Associated Press Television News and other members of the network pool, showed the bullet striking the man in the upper body, possibly the head. His blood splatters on the wall behind him and his body goes limp.
It is unclear from the footage whether the body was moving before the shot. Kevin Sites, the TV reporter embedded with the Marines, said the man who was shot to death didn't appear to be armed or threatening in any way, and there were no arms visible in the room.
The Marine has been withdrawn from the battlefield pending the results of the investigation.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, U.S. forces arrested Naseer Ayaef, a high-ranking member of an influential Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, in a dawn raid on his home, party official Ayad al-Samarrai told The Associated Press.
Al-Samarrai said the arrest was punishment for the party's objections to "Fallujah and to the security policies adopted by the Americans and the Iraqi government."
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's office demanded Ayaef be handed over to Iraqi authorities and promised his family and colleagues that any claims against him would be investigated fairly.
Ayaef is a member of the interim Iraqi National Council, a government oversight body. Last week, the Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew from Allawi's government to protest the Fallujah offensive.
© 2004 AP