Iraqi leader visits Mosul to direct offensive against al-Qaida in Iraq

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took personal charge of a military operation to rout al-Qaida in Iraq in what the US has described as the terror group's last major stronghold, even as a tenuous cease-fire took hold over Baghdad's Sadr City slum. The campaign in the northern city of Mosul was the third by al-Maliki in two months as he attempts to stamp out Shiite militants and Sunni extremists across the country. Also Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and wounded 40 in an attack on a funeral tent in a village west of Baghdad, Iraqi police Col. Faisal al-Zubaie said. Al-Maliki's flight to Mosul, 360 kilometers northwest of the capital, Iraq mirrors a trip he took almost two months ago to the southern city of Basra, where government troops fought radical Shiite militias. That fighting spread to Sadr City, a Shiite enclave in Baghdad, where a cease-fire to end fighting was reached this week. "The Iraqi prime minister has arrived in Mosul to supervise the military operations, and its second phase is due to start today," Mohammed al-Askari, the spokesman of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, told The Associated Press. "The main aim of this operation is to purge and clean Ninevah province of all militants and their weapons and declare it a safe area."