BAGHDAD — Iraqi army reinforcements moved Sunday into positions near the northern city of Mosul, ready to strike al-Qaida in Iraq targets in their last urban stronghold, a top Iraqi officer said.
Maj. Gen. Riyad Jalal, a senior officer in the Mosul region, said the additional forces were encamping in an Iraqi base near the city, and would open an offensive against al-Qaida fighters "immediately after all the added troops arrive."
Iraqi and U.S. officials have not said how many additional soldiers were headed toward Iraq's third largest city, an important trade and transportation hub, after a massive bombing there last week badly damaged a poor neighborhood, killing 38 and wounding more than 200. A senior police official was killed the next day inspecting the damage.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said most army reinforcements had reached the city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
"The operations against al-Qaida in Mosul will start soon," he said. The Iraqi military planned to use armored vehicles, tanks and helicopters.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said 3,000 residents in Mosul would be recruited to bolster the city's police force.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, reported two soldiers killed over the weekend in separate bombings in Baghdad _ one on a foot patrol Saturday near Kazimiyah and another whose vehicle was hit Sunday by a roadside bomb in northeastern Baghdad. Both attacks occurred in predominantly Shiite Muslim neighborhoods.
The deaths raised to at least 3,934 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Thirty American forces have died in January, seven more than December when the monthly toll was the lowest since February 2004.
The U.S. military does not plan to send additional forces to Mosul, which a military spokesman said earlier this month was the last urban safe haven for al-Qaida-led insurgents.
The United States has said Iraqi security forces will take the lead in Mosul _ a major test of Washington's plan to, at an undetermined date, shrink the American force and leave it as backup for Iraqi security forces.
"Regarding Mosul, an area 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.
He also said there were "tens of thousands of pounds of explosive material" in the abandoned building that exploded Wednesday. He declined to assign blame, but Iraqi authorities quickly laid blame with al-Qaida.
"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 at a news conference.
The military has said al-Qaida was thought to be behind a suicide attack the next day that killed the Nineveh provincial police chief and two other officers as they toured the site of the blast.
Aid to blast victims arrived by plane from Turkey, neighboring Kurdistan and the Iraqi Red Crescent. Zuhair al-Chalabi, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was in Mosul delivering payments of about $830 to those wounded in the explosion and $1,660 to families who had someone killed. Mosques and churches in the city opened centers to receive donations.
In northeast Baghdad, a former city official was stabbed to death in his home along with his wife and daughter. They lived in Talbiyah, a middle class, predominantly Shiite neighborhood near Sadr City, police said.
The knife-wielding attackers stormed the two-story house late Saturday, killing Ahmed Jwad Hashim, his wife and their daughter. A visiting nephew was seriously wounded, police and hospital officials said.
Neighbors gathered outside 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.
Overall levels of violence have fallen 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.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.