Military buildup in north Iraq; British attacked in south

( dpa ) - The Iraqi Army was gathering troops in the northern city of Mosul Thursday while attacks in Baghdad and Basra left two people killed and at least 18 injured, three of them British soldiers, according to military, media and witness reports."All necessary steps have been taken for a successful implementation of the military campaign, which will be backed by air support from the coalition forces," Mosul police chief General Wathik al-Hamdani told the state-owned al-Sabah newspaper.

"The target is to enable security forces to take command of hot spots that are the bases of terrorist elements, such al-Qaeda and other loyal groups," the general said.

US and Iraqi commanders say al-Qaeda militants and their loyalists have regrouped in northern provinces after they were partially flushed out of Baghdad and the western Anbar province during major offensives over the last year.

Troops are to be mainly positioned in Mosul and Talafar in Nineveh province, while security is tightened at checkpoints on the province's border with Syria, especially the Rabiya crossing, according to al-Sabah.

"Rabiya crossing will not be closed during the offensive as the intention is not to launch a war on Mosul. Troops are seeking to achieve specific goals during the offensive," General Riad Aziz, the commander of operations in Mosul, told the newspaper.

Mosul - a multi-ethnic city 450 kilometres north of Baghdad - has recently been the scene of deadly attacks.

The authorities in the neighbouring Salahhadin province are taking measures to stop insurgents fleeing military operations in Mosul from entering the province.

"Police and army forces in areas on the border with Nineveh received orders to take practical steps against gunmen trying to enter the province (Salahhadin) through checkpoints on main roads," General Hasan Ahmed from the local police said.

Hotels are instructed not to check in men under 40 from Nineveh and search operations are to be stepped up on border villages, Ahmed said.

Nineveh and Mosul have long borders and local tribes in both provinces have strong family bonds.

Kirkuk, which also has a border with Nineveh, has announced security schemes to prevent fleeing insurgents from finding sanctuary in it.

Kirkuk - an oil-rich multi-ethnic city - has been the scene of sectarian attacks and kidnappings.

South of the city, a 14-year-old Christian boy was abducted and the head of a man, who had been kidnapped two days ago along with three family members, was found Thursday, police said.

In Baghdad, a car bomb blast left two people dead and five injured in the northern district of Kazimiyah, security sources told the Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency.

Further south, three British soldiers and several Iraqi civilians were wounded in attacks on a British base near Iraq's southern city of Basra, a military statement said Thursday.

Attacks took place overnight and Thursday morning, striking the British base at Basra airport and slightly injuring three soldiers, according to a statement by the multinational forces carried by VOI.

The military denied a British helicopter had been destroyed in the attack.

Earlier, a British military spokesman told VOI a helicopter was hit.

At least 10 Iraqis, most of them airport workers, were injured in the indirect attacks on the airport, according to witnesses.

British troops pulled out of Basra and surrounding areas last year but maintained a base at Basra airport, 25 kilometres north-west of the city.

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