BAGHDAD (AP) – A suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. patrol Tuesday in Mosul, killing at least one Iraqi and wounding as many as 15, military and police officials said, a day after a roadside bomb killed five American soldiers in the increasingly lawless northern city.
The attacker on Tuesday detonated his explosives-laden car, wounding 10 Iraqi civilians about 11 a.m. in a predominantly Sunni area in eastern Mosul, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
The U.S. military said no American casualties were reported but one Iraqi had been killed and 15 wounded in the attack. The different Iraqi casualty tolls could not immediately be reconciled.
Iraqi reinforcements, along with helicopters, tanks and armored vehicles, have converged on Mosul for what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged would be a decisive battle against al-Qaida in its last major urban stronghold.
The attack Monday on the U.S. patrol — the deadliest on American forces since six soldiers perished Jan. 9 in a booby-trapped house north of Baghdad — raised the Pentagon's January death count to at least 36.
The toll so far is 56 percent higher than December's 23 U.S. military deaths and marks the first monthly increase since August. But the figures remain well below monthly death tolls of more than 100 last spring.
Tensions in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, have spiked after an explosion last week in an abandoned apartment that authorities say was used to stash insurgents' weapons and bombs. As many as 60 were killed and 200 injured.
The unrest in Mosul stands in sharp contrast to a significant decline in bloodshed most elsewhere in Iraq in recent months. The relative calm has been credited to a U.S.-led security crackdown — along with a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and a cease-fire order by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for his powerful Mahdi Army militia.
But influential members of al-Sadr's movement said Monday they have urged the anti-U.S. cleric to call off the six-month cease-fire when it expires in February — a move that could jeopardize the security gains.
Monday's attack in Mosul occurred in the southeastern Sumar neighborhood, a middle-class district popular with former officers in Saddam Hussein's military and now a suspected hotbed for the insurgency.
After the roadside bomb blew apart the American Humvee — killing the five soldiers — gunmen opened fire from a mosque. A fierce gunbattle erupted as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers secured the area, the military said. Iraqi troops entered the mosque but the insurgents had already fled, according to a statement.
There was other fighting in the neighborhood. An Iraqi officer, declining to be identified because he was not authorized to release the information, said three civilians were wounded and helicopters bombarded buildings in the district, the scene of frequent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Also Monday, insurgents attacked four policemen heading home from work south of Mosul, killing two and wounding the other two, Nineveh provincial police said.
U.S. commanders have described Mosul as the last major Iraqi city with a significant al-Qaida presence, although they have warned that insurgents remain a potent force in rural areas south and northeast of Baghdad.
But the military has said Iraqi security forces will take the lead in the city — a major test of Washington's plans to someday shrink the American force and leave it as backup for Iraqi security forces.
Al-Qaida and its supporters would find themselves without a major base of operations if ousted from Mosul, which occupies transport crossroads between Baghdad, Syria and other points. But the fight is expected to be difficult.
Mosul has not seen the groundswell of Sunni anger against al-Qaida that has helped turn the tide against insurgents in Anbar province and other areas.
Monday's attack was the deadliest roadside bombing since Nov. 5, when four soldiers were killed by a blast that destroyed their Humvee in the northern Tamim province of which Kirkuk is the capital.
Sporadic attacks also continued in Baghdad Tuesday, with Iraqi police reporting at least 16 people wounded in roadside bombings and a mortar attack.
One roadside bomb struck a police patrol near the University of Technology in central Baghdad, wounding three officers and four civilians, including two university students.
Another struck an Iraqi army patrol near the central Tahrir Square, wounding three soldiers and three civilians.
In eastern Baghdad, a mortar shell slammed into a highway, wounding three Iraqi police commandos, officials said.
Associated Press staff members in Mosul and the News Research Center in New York contributed to this report.