Baghdad Shaken by two days of deadly bombings, the government said Friday it would dispatch several thousand more security forces to Mosul in a "decisive" bid to drive al-Qaida in Iraq from its last major stronghold.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave no details on troop strength or when the additional police and soldiers would arrive in Iraq's main northern city. But it added to growing signs that Mosul could represent a pivotal showdown with insurgents chased north by U.S.-led offensives.
"Today, our troops started moving toward Mosul ... and the fight there will be decisive," al-Maliki said during a speech in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
The challenge, however, is whether the Iraqi forces have the firepower and training to lead an offensive into Iraq's third-largest city.
The U.S. military is relatively thin across northern Iraq and has signaled no immediate plans to shift troops from key zones in and around Baghdad.
Mosul is now considered the main logistical hub for al-Qaida in Iraq because of its size and location - sitting at crossroads between Baghdad, Syria, Turkey and Iran.
Many extremists fled north as U.S.-led forces began gaining ground in former insurgent strongholds last year, aided by Sunni tribes that rose up against al-Qaida and its backers.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf told The Associated Press that 3,000 police were being sent to the Mosul region to augment the understaffed force.
Ninevah province, whose capital is Mosul, has about 18,000 policemen. But only about 3,000 of those operate in the city of nearly 2 million, according to police spokesman Saeed al-Jubouri.
A Defense Ministry official said several thousand Iraqi soldiers would be moved from Baghdad and Anbar province. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is sensitive.