He said security forces had recovered 1,400kg of explosives, 45 missiles, 263 mortar bombs and 175 assorted weapons.
 
Fighters disperse

Iraqi leaders said many of the fighters had fled to nearby areas, where troops were hunting for them.

"It's been very successful. I think the combination of the arrests plus the uncovering of a number of weapons caches will reduce the number of attacks in Mosul."

Major-General Mark Hertling,
US commander in northern Iraq

However, the operation is being described as successful in depriving the fighters of their urban stronghold. But the flight of al-Qaeda fighters to nearby areas raises the concern they can regroup elsewhere, as has happened in the past.

Yassin Majid, an adviser to Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said most of the group's leaders had fled to the outskirts of Mosul or to a neighbouring country.

He did not name the country, but Mosul is about 96km from the Syrian and Turkish borders.

Major-General Mark Hertling, the senior US commander in northern Iraq, whose forces are working with the Iraqi troops in the operation, said he did not believe significant numbers of fighters had escaped.

He said Iraqi forces had surrounded the city with barriers and checkpoints controlling entry and exits.

"It's been very successful," he told the Associated Press. "I think the combination of the arrests plus the uncovering of a number of weapons caches will reduce the number of attacks in Mosul."

Arms amnesty

On Friday, al-Maliki had announced a 10-day amnesty for those surrendering weaponry, but officials said there had been no response to an offer of cash in exchange for heavy and medium weapons.

"Any house in Mosul has the right to have only one small weapon - a pistol or rifle," al-Askari said on Friday.

Al-Maliki has been waging a campaign
against the al-Mahdi Army militia [AFP]

In February, al-Maliki unveiled plans for a campaign against al-Qaeda in Iraq and in March was involved in an assault on Shia militias in the southern city of Basra.

This crackdown prompted fighting in other urban areas between the Iraqi army and members of the al-Mahdi Army militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a populist Shia leader.

Hundreds of people have been killed in seven weeks of battles, which saw the US military stepping in to support the Iraqi army.

Despite a truce being agreed last Saturday one woman was killed and two children were wounded in overnight violence, medics in the Baghdad district of Sadr City said on Friday.