With stunning speed and barely a fight, Kurdish fighters and U.S. Special Operations forces took control of the northern city of Kirkuk and its oil fields Thursday.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Bush administration has been in touch with the Turkish government in an effort allay Ankara's fear that Kurdish control of Kirkuk's oil would encourage Kurdish independence. "We understand their concerns, and Kirkuk, which is the city that is involved here, will be under American control," he said.
There were indications a second northern city, Mosul, may soon follow. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, said there are signs of Iraqi surrenders in the area. "I am told that in Mosul, there appears to be an opportunity for the regular Iraqi forces to turn in their weapons and no longer pose a threat, in which case Kurdish forces and U.S. forces in small numbers are in the process of moving into Mosul," he said.
The Pentagon says Iraqi army units in the north are the last significant military formations still on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, a suicide bombing attack in Baghdad killed at least one U.S. Marine. Major General Stanley McChrystal said the priority in the Iraqi capital is rooting out similar scattered resistance that is still posing a danger to coalition forces. "Clearly, the focus right now has got to be on getting the death squads and the Special Republican Guard elements identified and defeated and out of the city. Because that is the major threat," he said. "Looting is a problem, but it is not a major threat."
VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu, who is with U.S. troops on the ground in the Iraqi capital, says she thinks the increased military presence in the city has reduced some of the anarchy and chaos. "I was in Saddam Hussein's residence area, where his presidential palace is, where the parade stadium is. I mean, that is the center of Baghdad. And I can tell you, in that section, there are hardly any people around. The roads were deserted," she said.
In the central Iraqi city of Najaf, an angry crowd killed prominent Shiite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who had recently returned from exile. Witnesses say the killing was apparently part of a power struggle among religious leaders. Shiite Muslims make up 60 percent of Iraq's population, but were persecuted for decades by Saddam's Sunni-dominated administration.
Countries around the world welcomed the apparent fall of Saddam Hussein's government. Japan promised $100 million in humanitarian assistance, while the Philippines is sending 500 peacekeepers and relief workers to help rebuild Iraq.
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia stressed that Iraq's future government must be chosen by Iraqis. Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who had earlier lashed out at Arab leaders for failing to stop the war in Iraq, now called for Arab unity. "We will have to do everything possible, everything in our power, in order to preserve the unity of countries, especially when it comes to threats to their security and their interests and reaches the level of war rather than peaceful settlements of disputes," he said.
Reactions from the so-called Arab Street are varied. Some are happy Saddam's regime is over, while others are upset that Iraqi soldiers did not put up a better fight for Baghdad.