Mosul Long a Center of Saddam's Support

Mosul (search), the city where Saddam Hussein (search)'s sons were killed in a fierce firefight Tuesday, was a center of support for him and the Iraqi army during his rule.

The dominant city in northern Iraq, it has a large Kurdish population, and many Arabs in the area were apparently loyal to Saddam partly out of fear Kurds (search) could gain power.

After Saddam's fall, there were rumors in the region that the Iraqi leader and his sons were being sheltered by Arab tribes in the countryside between the city and the Syrian border. U.S. special forces were active in the area, and Kurds overjoyed by the fall of Saddam said they were cooperating with the Army in the search for Saddam.

Saddam's half brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, was captured near Mosul in April apparently while trying to flee to Syria.

Mosul, with a commercial center of 600,000 people and a metropolitan area nearly three times that size, is Iraq's third largest city. About two-thirds of its people are Arab, with Kurds as the largest minority. There is also a significant Assyrian Christian minority.

During Saddam's rule, the powerful 5th Army Corps was based in the city and a large percentage of Iraqi army officers were from the region.

The 5th Army Corps collapsed without a fight during the war, setting off days of looting that led to the ransacking of the city's university, museum and hotels.

The U.S. 101st Airborne Division is now based in the city and is headquartered in one of Saddam's former palaces.

The city, on the banks of the Tigris river, is part of the country's breadbasket and the areas to the south are dominated by rolling fields of wheat and barley.

Much of the countryside was populated by Kurds. During Saddam's regime, Kurds were forced out of the area and replaced by Arabs, part of a strategy to change the ethnic balance of the region.

Following the war, Kurds began to move back, sparking tensions with Arabs.

To reduce tensions in the city and countryside, the head of the 101st Airborne, Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, helped form a group of electors who chose a municipal council in early May. The council -- headed by an Arab with a Kurd as his deputy -- was billed as Iraq's first postwar elected body.