CHAMCHAMAL, Iraq March 24 —
Coalition warplanes bombed a military barracks in northern Iraq
on Monday, shattering windows for miles around and igniting huge
plumes of smoke. Frightened residents fled the area in a stream of
cars, taxis and buses.
An American officer confirmed Monday that U.S. forces have been
in northern Iraq for about 24 hours. He would reveal no details or
numbers of the troops.
U.S. Marine Col. Keith Lawless, speaking to reporters before a
news briefing in the city of Salahuddin in Iraq's Kurdish autonomous
region, said the American forces had arrived but would not say from
where they had come nor where they were.
At least six bombs struck Iraqi positions Monday with such force
that the ground shook three miles away in the city of
A top Kurdish military official, Rostam Kirkuki, said the
Americans bombed the entire corridor between Chamchamal and Kirkuk,
a key oil center.
The few residents who had not yet fled started to pack up and
leave. Vehicles of all sizes poured onto the main road out of the
"People are evacuating, but not because of the bombing. They are
afraid Saddam will respond with chemical weapons," said Ahmad
Qafoor, a schoolteacher.
Warplanes continued to fly overhead after the first wave of
bombings that struck the Bani Maqem barracks, close to the line that
separates the Kurdish-held area, including Chamchamal, from
territory under the control of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In the nearby village of Shoresh, civil servant Ali Nouri Karim
said he spotted Iraqi soldiers evacuating the area and pulling
people into ambulances.
Residents contacted by telephone in Kirkuk, 25 miles to the west
of Chamchamal, said the city came under heavy bombardment by
coalition aircraft. An unknown number of casualties were brought to
local hospitals, they said.
Minutes before the bombings in Chamchamal, several loud
explosions heard from the direction of Qara Hanjir, according to
Kurdish soldier Mohammed Omar Mohammed.
Qara Hanjir is situated between Chamchamal and Kirkuk and is the
site of an Iraq military barracks and command post.
The United States has been building up its presence in the
Kurdish north, bringing in warplanes and military personnel. Over
the weekend, U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq pounded positions of
the militant Ansar al-Islam group, an Islamic group with alleged
al-Qaida and Baghdad ties.
The Kurdish autonomous area has been under American and British
aerial protection against Saddam since the 1991 Gulf War.
The United States wanted to use Turkey to attack Iraq from the
north, but the Turkish parliament refused to grant access to ground
Mohammad Haji Mahmoud, leader of the Kurdistan Social Democratic
Party and a key member of the Iraqi opposition, said the Americans
are welcome to use Kurdistan as a staging ground for a northern
assault against Saddam's regime.
"We're not going to say no to anything the Americans want," he
said. "America is the true liberator and the only one who could
liberate us from this regime. We couldn't do it with our rusty
Kalashnikovs in more than 40 years."
|People flee the town of Khurmal
after U.S. forces fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at suspected
positions of the Al-Qaida-linked Ansar al-Islam guerrilas, in
northern Iraq, Sunday March 23, in this photo made available
Monday, March 24, 2003. Khurmal lies about 8 miles from the
Iranian border and 6 from the checkpoint of Gerdigo, where an
apparent car bomb killed at least five people including an
Australian cameraman near the Ansar al-Islam militant group
camp. (AP Photo/Newsha
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