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Coalition Forces Focus on Northern Iraq - 2003-04-11


After establishing control over Basra and moving into Baghdad, coalition forces in Iraq are focusing on the northern part of the country. Iraqi military officers in Mosul, the country's third largest city, are reportedly negotiating their surrender to U.S. troops. And in Kirkuk, also in the north, Kurdish fighters who took the city on Thursday, are promising to turn control over to U.S. forces to allay Turkish concerns the Kurds may try to declare an independent state.

U.S.-led forces have begun moving into Mosul to negotiate the city's surrender. On Thursday, Kurdish fighters took control of northern Iraq's other big city, Kirkuk, with unexpected speed, and staged an almost bloodless rout of government forces.

Their success in seizing the mainly ethnic Kurdish city sparked joyful street celebrations. But it caused alarm in Turkey, which fears that Kurdish control of Kirkuk's nearby oil fields will encourage a drive for Kurdish independence, and lead to a spillover effect among Turkey's own restless Kurds.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reassured the Turks that American forces will control Kirkuk. "We understand their concerns, and Kirkuk, which is the city that is involved here, will be under American control," he said.

The Kurdish commander in Kirkuk says his fighters will turn control of the city over to American troops, once they arrive in greater force. For their part, the Turks are sending military observers into the area to make sure the deal holds.

Meanwhile, firefights between U.S. forces and Iraqi irregulars still loyal to the Saddam Hussein regime continue in and around Baghdad, as the U.S. military cements its control over the capital. A suicide attacker set off a bomb Thursday, wounding four U.S. Marines.

And looting of government offices and homes of Iraqi leaders continues, with residents of the city carting off almost everything they can find. Friday morning, as looting spread, some shopkeepers fired at looters.

Though some citizens of Baghdad have called on the Americans to stop the looting, a top Pentagon official, Major General Stanley McChrystal, said the priority for U.S. forces in the city is rooting out scattered resistance that he says still poses 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."

One other problem coalition forces may have to deal with is score-settling among Iraqis. In the central Iraqi town of Najaf, an angry crowd killed two prominent Muslim Shiite clerics after they held a reconcilliation meeting. One was Haider al-Kadar, who had worked with Saddam Hussein. The other was, Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who returned from exile just last week.

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