Nearly 1,000 people have been detained in a sweep to break al-Qaida in Iraq's sway in the country's third-largest city, Mosul, but many of the fighters have fled to nearby areas, where troops are hunting for them, Iraqi officials said Saturday.
Iraq's leaders presented the crackdown as a success so far in depriving the terror network of what has been its most prominent urban stronghold since it lost hold of cities in Iraq's western Anbar province.
But the flight of al-Qaida fighters raises the concern they can regroup elsewhere, as has often happened in the past.
Yassin Majid, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said most of the leading insurgents had fled to the outskirts of Mosul or to a neighboring country amid the operations. He did not name the neighboring country. Mosul is about 60 miles from the Syrian and Turkish borders.
"Operations will continue and the Iraqi army will not leave Mosul until security and stability have been accomplished," he said.
Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, whose forces are working with the Iraqi troops in the operation, said he didn't believe significant numbers of militants had escaped. He said Iraqi forces have surrounded the city with a circle of berms and checkpoints controlling entry and exits.
The sweep was launched Thursday, after five days of preparatory operations and arrests in the city. U.S.-backed Iraqi police and soldiers have been conducting raids on homes and have fanned out with checkpoints on city streets, though no clashes have been reported in the city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said 1,068 people have been detained over the past week, but 94 were cleared and have been released. Hertling said those detained included several high- and mid-level al-Qaida figures, including leaders of cells that organized suicide car bombings and facilitators for foreign fighters entering the country.
In violence Saturday, a suicide bomber blew herself up near an office for a U.S.-allied Sunni group, then a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi police patrol heading to the scene in the Diyala provincial capital of Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad.
Police said at least 15 people were wounded in the attacks, including two children.
House speaker visits Baghdad
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a top Democratic critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, expressed confidence during a visit to Iraq on Saturday that expected provincial elections will promote national reconciliation. Pelosi, who led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Baghdad, spoke after the group met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq. She welcomed Iraq's progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation and a bill paving the way for fall elections that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials. "We're assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have," she said.