BAGHDAD - Nearly 1,000 people have been detained in a sweep to break Al Qaeda in Iraq's sway in the country's third-largest city, Mosul, but many of the other fighters have fled to nearby areas, where troops are hunting for them, Iraqi officials said yesterday.
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 Qaeda 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 in a telephone interview.
The prime minister returned to Baghdad from Mosul, where he has been overseeing the crackdown, to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who made a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday.
Pelosi, a top Democratic critic of the US-led war in Iraq, expressed confidence that expected provincial elections will promote national reconciliation.
She welcomed Iraq's progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall 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," Pelosi said.
Pelosi, who also traveled to Iraq in January 2007 shortly after the Democrats assumed congressional control, has been a sharp critic of the Bush administration's conduct of the war and has pressed for the withdrawal of US troops from the country this year.