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IRAQ: Long-promised offensive catches Mosul off guard

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Government officials had been talking about it for months. But when the offensive finally began Saturday to clear the northern city of Mosul of insurgents, residents were caught off guard.

Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew as they went house to house, searching for weapons and fighters.

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‘My main concern is that I did not buy any groceries since Thursday,’ said Safa Ahmed, a mother of four. ‘I don’t know what to feed my children until the end of the operations.’

Musleh Abdul-Baqi, a high school teacher, was worried about his students, who are supposed to start their final exams soon.

‘I think the timing of the military operation is not right,’ he said. But he added, ‘The operation is a must because the situation in the city has become intolerable.’

U.S. and Iraqi forces believe insurgents driven out of Baghdad and Al Anbar province have regrouped in and around Mosul, which they describe as the last urban stronghold of Sunni Arab militants loyal to Al Qaeda in Iraq. Violence there increased as the number of attacks dropped in the rest of Iraq in the second half of last year.

‘I am tired of living in this city in fear,’ said Falah Hadad, a merchant. ‘I expect to be killed at any moment by armed men. I want to live peacefully and free to enjoy my business and my money.’

No major clashes were reported in the first two days of the crackdown, announced by the Nineveh province operations chief, Lt. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq.

Iraqi soldiers killed a man who tried to flee when they raided a house in west Mosul, security officials said Sunday. A search of the premises uncovered a weapons cache, so the soldiers detained the six other men present.

The U.S. military said that the operation was an Iraqi one, but that their troops would provide backup as requested.

— Alexandra Zavis in Baghdad and a special correspondent in Mosul

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