BAGHDAD – Insurgents attacked a main U.S.-Iraqi base Tuesday in the northern city of Mosul, killing one American soldier and striking directly at the Iraqi command center for an offensive against the militants.
The barrage underscored the resilience of al-Qaida in Iraq and other groups after repeated attempts to break their hold in Mosul, a dangerous city where at least seven U.S. soldiers have been killed since early February.
With the U.S. combat role in Iraq set to end in August 2010, Mosul represents one of the key remaining showdowns with insurgents. American military planners have backed up Iraqi forces in the crackdown launched last month.
The attack Tuesday hit Forward Operating Base Diamondback in southern Mosul, according to the U.S. military.
Initial reports indicate it was a rocket attack, the U.S. military said. Rockets have hit U.S. forces in and around Baghdad, but much less frequently in Mosul and surrounding areas.
Iraqi police, however, described the attack as mortar strikes. The Iraqi official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to release the information.
The site includes the Iraqi security command for the entire province. The last mortar barrage on the site was nearly two months ago, the Iraqi official said.
However, insurgents have targeted forces with repeated roadside bombings and suicide attacks.
Last month, a suicide car bomber struck a U.S. patrol in Mosul, killing four American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter in the deadliest single attack against U.S. forces in nine months. Then last week, two Iraqi policeman opened fire on visiting U.S. soldiers, killing one American in an attack that deepened worries of possible infiltration of security forces.
Despite the clashes in Mosul, violence has leveled off nationwide.
Casualties among Iraqi civilians and security forces in February hit their second-lowest mark in nearly four years with 283 deaths linked to war-related violence, according to an Associated Press tally.
The figure was an increase from the lowest death count: 242 in January. The deadliest month for Iraqi civilians and security forces, according to the AP count, was December 2006 with 2,309 killed.
The AP began tracking the figures in April 2005 based on reports by police, hospital officials, morgue workers and verifiable witness accounts.
These numbers are considered a minimum, based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher since many killings go unreported or uncounted. The security personnel include Iraqi military, police and police recruits, and bodyguards. Insurgent deaths are not included.
The U.S. military reported 16 deaths in February. The lowest total was 13 in July.
In Baghdad, lawmakers struggled to work out spending plans that could include additional cuts in reconstruction and military purchases because of falling oil prices.
Parliament members failed to hold a formal vote on the budget, which has been trimmed by more than 10 percent. The cuts will likely require officials to put some reconstruction projects and military arms purchases on hold even as Iraq prepares to take full control of security next year.
The impasse over the proposed $64 billion budget has frozen other critical tasks facing lawmakers, including setting a framework that would regulate foreign oil investment.
Noureddin al-Hiyali, a lawmaker of the main Sunni bloc in parliament, criticized fiscal planners for basing projections on $50 a barrel for oil and creating a "fake budget."
Oil prices are below $42 a barrel after hitting highs of about $150 a barrel in mid-July. Oil exports account for about 95 percent of Iraq's revenue.
Meanwhile, in a ceremony in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, more than 250 U.S. soldiers became American citizens.
The soldiers each received a citizenship certificate and an American flag. Some of the soldiers had their weapons slung over their shoulders.
Since 2004, active-duty immigrant soldiers can apply for citizenship without the normal three-year waiting period and without being inside the United States.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. military said the number of detainees held by the Americans in Iraq has dropped to 13,832 from a peak of 26,000 in 2007. A military statement said U.S. forces have been releasing an average of 50 detainees a day.
The prisoners are being released or transferred to Iraqi custody to meet the requirements of a security agreement that took effect on Jan. 1.
Associated Press Writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.