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Islamic Militants Kill 20 Kurdish Fighters in Iraq - 2002-12-04


Kurdish military officials say Islamic militants, including some believed to be linked to Osama bin Laden's terror group al-Qaida, killed as many as 20 fighters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, during a battle Wednesday in northeastern Iraq.

Kurdish militia officials say Islamic militants, firing heavy artillery, charged and took control of two hilltops controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan early Wednesday morning.

Some of the militants, members of the Ansar al-Islam forces, are Kurds, but PUK officials say some of them are believed to be Arab and Afghans with ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

The PUK sent reinforcements to the area along the Iraq-Iran border. PUK officials say the militants succeeded Wednesday because some PUK forces had been sent home for Thursday's holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Wednesday's battle took place in northern Iraq where U.S. and British air forces protect a no-fly zone that was established after the Gulf war in 1991.

The eastern part of the area has since become controlled by the PUK and the western section is in the hands of its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

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