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April 12, 2003

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U.S. Reinforcements Calm Northern Iraq
U.S. Reinforcements Calm Northern Iraqi Cities of Mosul, Kirkuk After Looting Sprees

The Associated Press

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MOSUL, Iraq April 12

Waving in friendship but still wearing full combat gear, U.S. soldiers streamed into the heart of Iraq's third-largest city to help take control of Mosul after President Saddam Hussein's forces disappeared without a fight.

The high-profile presence of the American troops and more allied Kurdish fighters in Mosul appeared to bring some measure of calm, but sporadic gunfire and arson blazes continued. The wild plunder on Friday, however, left deep scars, including some people in tears over the ransacking of clinics and the city's esteemed university.

Blame and anger were heaped on the coalition. Many people accused U.S. commanders of leaving Mosul in a lawless limbo after the Iraqi Army 5th Corps disintegrated. Only small Kurdish contingents incapable of imposing any serious authority were in the city during the height of the looting, while U.S. Special Forces were only visible on the outskirts.

"When Saddam was here, at least we had security. Saddam was a dictator but we never saw anything like this (looting). We are victims of this anarchy," complained Nabir Ganam, 30-year-old engineer.

The rage was further stoked by the swelling numbers of Kurdish militiamen erecting checkpoints and command posts.

Mosul a commercial center of 600,000 people and the hub of a metropolitan area nearly three times that size is about two-thirds Arab, with Kurds the dominant minority. Resentment for the Kurdish authority appears to be near the boiling point among some Arabs.

"Where are the Americans? Are we to be ruled by Kurds? This can never happen. It will start another war," shouted 48-year-old Read Mohammed.

U.S. military convoys of Humvees and pickups mounted with heavy machines guns rolled through main boulevards and took up positions at busy intersections. Thousands of people waved and applauded as they passed. The soldiers still wearing helmets and flak jackets, and carrying weapons waved back or took snapshots.

Not all the cries were welcoming. "Out! out!" yelled a group of teenagers. An elderly man in Arab dress shook his cane and growled: "This is our country."

At a main crossroads, a barefoot Iraqi man climbed a flagpole and waved his nation's flag just a few yards from two American military vehicles with large U.S. flags.

The crowd immediately turned it's back on the U.S. soldiers and chanted: "Iraq! Iraq! God is great."

A few minutes later, Kurdish fighters fired into the air above the crowd, apparently angered by this display of patriotism.

In the evening, an ammunition depot north of the city was rocked by an explosion and a big cloud of smoke rose over the city.

In Kirkuk, the other main northern city that fell from Saddam's control, looting also appeared to subside as U.S. troops expanded patrols in vehicles and by helicopter. The stakes for quickly bringing order to the oil-rich region of Kirkuk are high.

Turkey has warned it could send troops into northern Iraq unless Kurdish fighters withdraw from the city, which Kurds consider part of their ethnic homeland. Turkish leaders fear Kurdish control of Kirkuk could inspire Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey.

A Turkish incursion could touch off battles with Kurdish guerrillas which would put Washington into the middle of a fight between two key allies. But Turkish leaders appeared satisfied so far with U.S. efforts to ease Kurdish militiamen out of Kirkuk.

"The United States is at the moment continuing to send its troops to the region, even if it is not in sufficient numbers," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters. "Our liaison officers are there. We don't think there is any possibility for any serious problems."

But Kurds have taken aggressive steps in other areas in Kirkuk.

More than 40 doctors, 100 nurses and 10 ambulances have been sent to Kirkuk from the city of Sulaymaniyah in the Kurds' Western-protected enclave. Firefighters using Sulaymaniyah fire trucks battled a blaze at the Kirkuk Municipal Building.

Sulaymaniyah traffic police, wearing sparkling white caps and crisp blue uniforms, took over spots held by Saddam's regime less than three days earlier.

The streets of Mosul, however, were still in the hands of anyone capable of slapping up a barrier.

Kurdish fighters manned checkpoints at key sites around the city sometimes using looted couches to rest. In other parts, residents armed with guns and clubs built makeshift barricades of rocks and furniture in an attempt to thwart any more looters.

Lt. Col. Robert Waltemeyer, commander of a U.S. Special Operations unit that helped secure Mosul, met with local tribal and clan leaders Friday and announced a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

photo credit and caption:
A citizen helps sieze food that was looted from a local man at a checkpoint in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, Saturday, April 12, 2003. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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