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U.S. commanders predict al-Qaida's last urban stand will be a tough battleground.
MOSUL, Iraq - The top U.S. commanders in northern Iraq predicted Tuesday that the battle to oust al-Qaida in Iraq from its last urban stronghold will not be a swift strike, but rather a grinding campaign for Mosul that will require more firepower from both the Pentagon and Iraqi allies.
The statements appeared to discount suggestions by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Iraqi forces were gathering for a "decisive" attack as soon as all reinforcements are in place. Maliki has promised to send a wave of Iraq police and soldiers into the Mosul area to crush al-Qaida and its backers.
"It is not going to be this climactic battle. ... It's going to be probably a slow process," said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq.
In a telephone interview from his headquarters in Tikrit, Hertling described the strategy for Mosul - Iraq's third-largest city - as the same step-by-step tactics used in the U.S.-led troop offensives in Baghdad: win control of a district and keep troops there to hold it.
Attention on Mosul has sharply increased in the past weeks with a rise in insurgent violence, including a bomb cache that tore through a poor Sunni neighborhood, killing about 60 people and wounding more than 200 last week.
On Monday, U.S. forces were caught in a bomb-and-bullets ambush that killed five U.S. soldiers.
At Mosul's airfield on Tuesday, a cold wind blew across the tarmac as pallbearers took turns unloading flag-draped coffins from the back of five Humvee ambulances carrying the bodies of the soldiers killed Monday.
Even civilian workers formed an honor line as the soldiers' bodies were loaded into a gray C-130 transport plane.
Later Tuesday, a suicide car bomber targeted another U.S. patrol in Mosul, killing at least one Iraqi and wounding as many as 15, the military and police said. No American casualties were reported.
In Baghdad, a bombing at a checkpoint wounded five American soldiers and three civilians, the U.S. military said.
Northwest of Baghdad, Iraqi police said a Sunni leader was killed late Monday when his car exploded after he had met with U.S. forces.
The apparent attack against Abbas al-Dulaimi is the latest against a member of a so-called Awakening Council - Sunni groups that have turned against al-Qaida and are credited with helping significant U.S.-led gains across central Iraq.
Gruesome discovery: Civilians found nine headless bodies in a field in Diyala province about 60 miles north of Baghdad, on Tuesday. The nine, including three women, were targeted because they were suspected of being part of the local Awakening Council, said a police officer.
Information from McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report
Pullout under review
The Bush administration is sending strong signals that U.S. troop reductions in Iraq will slow or stop altogether this summer, a move that would jeopardize hopes of relieving strain on the Army and Marine Corps and revive debate over an open-ended U.S. commitment in Iraq.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is scheduled to report to President Bush and to Congress in April on possible additional cutbacks and any recommended changes in strategy. In his State of the Union address Monday, Bush emphasized the risks - with no mention of the benefits - of continuing the cutbacks beyond July. "Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders," Bush said. "Having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen."
[Last modified January 30, 2008, 02:16:13]