Kurds Take Kirkuk - How Long Til the Sellout?
I'd gather everyone is pleased another tyrant is pushing up daisies, and I am especially glad that the Kurds will not, ideally, get a chance at what they've been denied by Western imperialists for 100 years now: a chance to choose their own destiny. However, we all know the US can't surrender that northern oil field - so the question should be, when does the sellout happen?
Kurds Seize Iraq's Northern Oil Hub of Kirkuk
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By Mike Collett-White and Joseph Logan
KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Kurdish guerrillas scored their biggest success of the Iraq (news - web sites) war on Thursday by capturing the key northern oil city of Kirkuk in an almost bloodless rout of government forces that sparked joyful street celebrations.
It was the first major city in northern Iraq to fall in the U.S.-led war to oust President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites), and its capture sparked immediate concerns in neighboring Turkey, worried about the possible creation of an independent Kurdish state.
It was unclear how far the Kurdish move into Kirkuk had been coordinated with U.S. forces, under whose authority the Kurds have said they operate. In a bid to reassure Turkey, the White House said U.S. armed forces would be in control of Kirkuk.
Senior Kurdish commander Mam Rostam told Reuters in Kirkuk that "peshmerga" fighters, who engaged Iraqi forces in light fighting for around five hours before the city fell, moved on the city when they heard an uprising had begun.
"We were on top of the hill and we heard there was an uprising, so we just entered the city," said Rostam, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). But he and other Kurdish officials could not confirm an explicit U.S. order to move.
Residents of Kirkuk, a city of 700,000 people that for the past 12 years has been under Baghdad's control but is close to a Kurdish-ruled zone of northern Iraq, gave an ecstatic welcome to hundreds of Kurdish fighters pouring in from the east.
Local people cheered the peshmerga (which means "those who face death") as liberators and children swarmed out into the streets, stopping cars and saying "Thanks Mr. Bush" in reference to President Bush (news - web sites).
There was no sign of resistance and residents said Iraqi soldiers had either laid down their arms or withdrawn south toward Tikrit. Rostam said Kirkuk was "under control."
Omar Fatah (news - web sites), a senior PUK official, warned that many Iraqi soldiers were probably still hiding in the city, although he did not believe they represented a major security threat.
The city was pounded by U.S. B-52 bombers in the morning, helping to trigger the Iraqi collapse, which came the day after U.S. forces took control of most of Baghdad.
U.S. bombers had been pummeling Iraqi defensive lines near Kirkuk and elsewhere along the demarcation line with the Kurdish-run area since the Iraq war began on March 20. But only in the last few days had Iraqi troops begun pulling back.
IRAQIS CHEER AS STATUE FALLS
The Kurds also captured the town of Khanaqin, near the Iranian border, on Thursday. To the northwest of Kirkuk, U.S. Abrams tanks rolled toward Iraq's third city of Mosul, making their debut on the northern war front, Reuters witnesses said.
There are few U.S. forces in northern Iraq after Turkey refused to let its territory be used to open a second front.
Near Kirkuk, U.S. special forces were seen dismantling targeting equipment, which had been used to guide the bombers.
A huge plume of smoke was visible to the north, which witnesses said came from an oilfield. But the capture of Kirkuk eased market concerns about the oilfields, and oil prices fell.
Kirkuk's streets swarmed with peshmerga wearing their trademark baggy trousers and bandanas and firing in the air.
At a main roundabout near the center, about 300 people toppled a huge statue of Saddam, as they have done in Baghdad and other places where Iraqi forces have been driven away.
People climbed up the six-meter (20-foot) tall statue, one man beating the top of its head with a sledgehammer and others standing on the plinth waving a U.S. Stars and Stripes flag.
Outside a burned government security office people were dancing in the streets and pushing away carts full of appliances they had looted from inside.
"(Iraqi soldiers) all ran away this morning like cowards. Thanks to God and the Kurds in Iraq and Bush, they were driven out, there's not one left," exulted one man, Abu Sardar Mostafa.
"It's the first time I've been happy in 50 years."
Until now, Kirkuk has been in an Iraqi government-controlled area just to the west and south of a Kurdish-ruled zone created under Western protection after the Gulf War of 1991.
The PUK is one of the two main Kurdish organizations in northern Iraq, dividing control of the zone with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). PUK commanders said KDP peshmerga were also in Kirkuk and the two groups were coordinating.
But the capture of Kirkuk rattled Turkey, which fears it could be the first step to an independent state that could spark separatism among Turkey's own Kurds.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Secretary of State Colin Powell had told him U.S. troops would remove the peshmerga from Kirkuk. In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said only that American forces would be "in control."
Fleischer also said Washington had agreed to Turkey sending a small number of military observers to the area.
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