( AP ) - A series of explosions thundered in the Iraqi capital Saturday morning, police said, including one from a mortar round that hit the U.S.-controlled Green Zone.
One of the explosions was a roadside bomb that targeted a U.S. patrol in eastern Baghdad. A police officer said the blast site was sealed by American forces and there was no immediate way to detail damage or casualties. There was no immediate report of the incident from the U.S. military.
Another police officer confirmed a mortar round hit the heavily protected Green Zone. The Americans did not report damage or casualties from that incident either. Both officers spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to release the information.On Friday, shaken by two days of deadly bombings in Mosul, the government said it would dispatch several thousand more security forces to that city 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 presence in northern Iraq is relatively thin and it 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 a 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 an understaffed force there.
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.
"We have asked the prime minister to send us fresh units because we cannot defeat the terrorists with the weak units we have now in the city," Maj. Gen. Riyad Jalal, a senior Iraqi officer in the Mosul area. "We need new equipment and stronger weapons because most of our security members have only rifles."
Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, has become a fulcrum on two fronts.
First the United States wants Iraqi security forces to take the lead there, as a major test of Washington's long-range plans, which seek to keep a smaller American force in Iraq as backup for local soldiers and police.
Second, U.S. officials say Mosul has become the only remaining major city in Iraq where al-Qaida is able to operate with any freedom. Major centers of al-Qaida activity in the past - including the western Anbar province, Baghdad and Baqouba north of the capital - no longer offer easy refuge.
Al-Maliki announced reinforcements for Mosul two days after an abandoned apartment building, believed to be used as a bomb-making factory, was blown apart as the Iraqi army was investigating tips about a weapons cache.
At least 34 people were killed and 224 wounded when the blast tore through surrounding houses in the Zanjili neighborhood, a poverty-ridden district on the west bank of the Tigris River. No soldiers were reported killed.
A suicide bomber then killed a police chief and two other officers Thursday as they toured the devastation. Residents taunted the chief and pelted him with rocks moments before he was killed.