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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 10:01 GMT
Iraq moves against Mosul al-Qaeda
People standing on wreckage of Mosul building 24/1/08
The force of Wednesday's blast levelled the block of flats
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has announced the start of a major offensive against al-Qaeda militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

"Today, the troops have moved to Mosul... and the fight there will be decisive," he said in Karbala city.

The move comes after 34 people died and hundreds were injured in a blast on Wednesday at a block of flats in Mosul.

A day later a local police chief and two officers died in an ambush after they toured the scene of the explosion.

Brig Gen Saleh Mohammed Hassan was fleeing the area after gunmen opened fire on his convoy, reports say.

The convoy was hit by an explosion that also killed two other police officers.

Militant migration

The flats where Wednesday's explosion took place was believed to have housed a bomb-making factory.

The blast occurred when troops surrounded the building with the intention of raiding it following a tip-off about a suspected arms cache inside.

More than 200 bystanders were hurt in the incident, which levelled the three-storey block of flats, located in one of the poorer areas of western Mosul.

The ethnically mixed city of Mosul has seen an upsurge in violence in the past year.

Correspondents say the increased violence appears to be a consequence of the offensive by US-led forces in and around Baghdad, with Sunni Arab insurgents believed to have transferred their operations further north.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Baghdad says that, all of a sudden, the largest and most divided city in the north appears to be on the edge.

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