Iraqi and U.S. troops were on Sunday pushing ahead with their Lion's Roar targeting al-Qaeda’s last urban stronghold in northern Iraq to try to drive out militants who regrouped there.
Lieutenant-General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, commander of Iraqi armed forces in Nineveh province, said the operation, which was launched Saturday, would particularly target al-Qaeda fighters in the city of Mosul, regarded as the group's last bastion in Iraq.
"I declare the beginning of the military operation today to clean the province of al Qaeda remnants," Tawfiq told reporters on Saturday.
"I call on all the clerics and the heads of tribes to support the security forces in our effort to kick al Qaeda out."
Tawfiq said a vehicle curfew had been imposed throughout the province, whose capital is Mosul.
Operation Lion's Roar is an Iraqi led, planned and executed operation, and is another example of the Iraqis' growing confidence and ability to independently carry out complex combat, police and humanitarian operations, said Maj. Peggy Kageleiry, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in the north.
She added that U.S.-led Coalition forces will provide advice, guidance and support as-requested by the Iraqi operational commander.
Mosul residents said they saw U.S. fighter planes flying over the city.
Tawfiq said large numbers of Iraqi forces had been sent to Nineveh for the operation, although he declined to give details.
In January, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced plans to drive al-Qaeda out of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city. U.S. military officials said at the time it would take months to clear the ethnically and religiously mixed city.
U.S. officials blame al-Qaeda in Iraq for most big bombings in the country, including an attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 that set off a wave of sectarian killings that nearly tipped Iraq into all-out civil war.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq shares the name and ideology of Osama bin Laden's network, which was blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Structural and operational ties between the two are unclear but the U.S. military says al-Qaeda in Iraq is largely foreign-led. Its foot soldiers are mainly Iraqis.