MOSUL, Iraq - The top US commanders in northern Iraq predicted yesterday the battle to oust Al Qaeda in Iraq from its last urban stronghold will not be a swift strike, but rather a grinding campaign for Mosul that will require more firepower from both the Pentagon and Iraqi allies.
The statements appeared to discount suggestions by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Iraqi forces were gathering for a "decisive" attack as soon as all reinforcements are in place.
"It is not going to be this climactic battle. . . . It's going to be probably a slow process," said Major General Mark P. Hertling, commander of US forces in northern Iraq.
In a telephone interview from his headquarters in Tikrit, Hertling described the strategy for Mosul - Iraq's third-largest city - as the same step-by-step tactics used in the US-led troop offensives in Baghdad: Win control of a district and keep troops there to hold it.
Hertling said he was moving a considerable force of "enablers" into the Nineveh province and Mosul, its capital. He would not disclose numbers, but said the move on Mosul had long been planned.
But attention on Mosul has sharply increased in the past weeks with a rise in insurgent violence, including a bomb cache that tore through a poor Sunni neighborhood, killing about 60 people and wounding more than 200 last week. Then on Monday, US forces were caught in a bomb-and-bullets ambush that killed five US soldiers.
Maliki has promised to send a wave of Iraq police and soldiers into the Mosul area to crush Al Qaeda and its backers.
The offensive raised the possibility that Iraqi forces were moving toward a critical test by leading the difficult urban offensive in a city of 2 million people. Hertling's comments, however, suggested a heightened level of US involvement and oversight.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Simmering, of the Third Armored Cavalry at Forward Operating Base Marez near Mosul, also described the insurgent force in the city as a patchwork of groups, including Al Qaeda in Iraq and other factions, "all vying for different things at this point."
"The thing about the insurgency in Mosul is that there are many different facets," he said.
"This is going to be a long, protracted push by coalition forces and more importantly by Iraqi security forces to reestablish security," Simmering added. "If you're looking for one big culminating event, you'll never quite see it. I call this the 'campaign for Mosul.' "
Michael O'Hanlon, an Iraq watcher at the Brookings Institution, agreed.
"Al Qaeda regenerates so it is impossible to say it ever has had or will have a 'last stand,' " he said. "But it is true we can identify and target existing infrastructure and leadership, and that we've been fairly successful in most parts of Iraq except Mosul to date."
That is what Hertling counts on. "There are some foreign fighters, there are some hard-core Iraqis, and there are a bunch of others that I think can be persuaded to fall off of the organization either because they are going to see a lot of their friends killed or they're going to be offered jobs," the general said.
As violence has declined in many parts of Iraq, US reconstruction teams have increased efforts to reopen factories and businesses as a way to further blunt the insurgency.