Iraq’s third-largest city, Mosul, fell to U.S. troops and their Kurdish allies on Friday, eliminating Saddam Hussein’s last major stronghold in the north of the country.
Kurdish fighters celebrate the retreat of government forces from Northern Iraq.
According to Western media reports, Iraqi forces retreated out of Mosul enabling Kurdish peshmerga fighters and U.S. special forces take the city without a fight. The other large city in the north, the oil rich town of Kirkuk, fell on Thursday. Eyewitnesses said there was widespread looting in both Mosul and Kirkuk.
A U.S. Central Command spokesman in Qatar said the entire Iraqi 5th Army Corps had surrendered near Mosul. He said the coalition was deciding whether to take the soldiers as become prisoners of war or simply let them put down their arms and return home.
U.S. forces were also able to secure Kirkuk’s strategically important oilfields, the Reuters news agency reported. Capable of pumping 900,000 barrels per day, the vast Kirkuk field had been producing 40 percent of Iraq's prewar exports.
At the same time, Kurdish commanders said they were preparing to withdraw from around Kirkuk to assuage Turkish concerns.
"They will go out of Kirkuk immediately when American forces replace them," said Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two leading Iraqi Kurdish parties.
Turkey fear separatists
Turkey fears that Kurdish control of Iraq's northern oil fields will fuel separatist aspirations both there and among its own Kurdish minority. Ankara has threatened to send troops to intervene if the Kurds stay in Kirkuk.
The gains in north leave Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit as one of the final major targets for U.S. forces. Tikrit, 175 kilometers north of the Iraqi capital, is roughly halfway between Baghdad and Mosul.
The situation in the Baghdad remained unsettled amid sporadic fighting and looting. Some Iraqis had taken up arms to fight Fedayeen paramilitaries loyal to Saddam Hussein. Military sources told Reuters that local gunmen had fired on Fedayeen militia in Saddam City, a sprawling, largely Shiite Muslim district in northeast Baghdad. Shiites were disadvantaged under Hussein whose clan is Sunni.
Hundreds of desperate Iraqi civilians also besieged the national headquarters of Iraq's military intelligence on Friday, searching for relatives they said had been detained there. Others were appealing for help from the U.S. military to rescue people they said were in underground jails.
Suicide bomber at U.S. checkpoint
After being greeted by flower-throwing, cheering Iraqis early Thursday, at least one U.S. Marine was killed in a suicide bombing at a checkpoint in Baghdad late in the day. The troops were manning one of the many checkpoints U.S. forces have begun setting up around the city.
Another unfortunate result of the suicide attacks is that it puts U.S. forces on edge. Marines said they killed two children at a checkpoint in southern Iraq on Friday, when the driver of the vehicle in which the youngsters were traveling ignored warnings to stop. Captain Jay Delarosa, spokesman for the 15th U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit in the southern city of Nassiriya, told Reuters nine other people were wounded in the incident.
"Our Marines took action to protect themselves against what they thought was a suicide bomber," Delarosa said. "It was a regrettable mistake."
U.S.-backed Shite leader killed
In Najaf, south of Baghdad, a mob on Thursday reportedly killed a U.S.-backed Shiite leader and his aide shortly after their return to the city. In a foretaste of the challenges that remain in postwar Iraq, a mob turned on Abdul Majid al-Khoei, whose rapid return to a country he left more than a decade ago sparked violent infighting among the city's Shiite community.
Al-Kohei was the son of a local Shiite hero, Ayatollah Seyyid Abdulqasim Musawi al-Kohei, who died after being placed on house arrest by Hussein following a Shiite uprising after the first Gulf War. Competitors were resentful of Al-Kohei's return, and his apparent backing from the United States, and killed him in the holy Grand Imam Ali Mosque.
Others blamed fighters loyal to Hussein for the murder. Whoever is held responsible in the end, the murder has highlighted the problems that could arise in bringing together Iraq's various ethnic and religious minorities.
Iraqis get aid and promises from the coalition
With Baghdad apparently in coalition forces' hands, the coalition turned its attention towards winning over the Iraqi population.
U.S. President George Bush
In televised messages subtitled in Arabic, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair assured the Iraqis that the country would remain in Iraqi hands.
"The nightmare that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over," Bush said. "You deserve better than terror and corruption … I assure every citizen of Iraq your nation will soon be free."
The coalition forces will back up those words with increased amounts of food, water and medical supplies into the battered capital and throughout Iraq. A ship from the United Arab Emirates entered the deep water port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq on Thursday with more than 700 tons of food. Two Australian ships and a British ship carrying 28,300 tons of food will arrive in the coming days.
Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services. Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.