U.S. and Iraqi troops stormed insurgent-held police stations and neighborhoods Tuesday, launching an offensive to retake parts of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, 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.
In other developments:
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.
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.
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.