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[casi] Independent's Cockburn-near Kirkuk
Special forces attempting to cut off Kirkuk, say Kurds
By Patrick Cockburn in Dollabakra, northern Iraq

Kurish military commanders say US special forces are seeking to cut off the
northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul from the south, but they could not
confirm that Americans had seized the Kirkuk oilfields.

"They are using small groups of special forces to cut off the cities," said
General Nasrudin Mustafa, the commander of Kurdish forces just north of
Kirkuk. But he could not substantiate a BBC report quoting intelligence
sources saying the special forces had captured Kirkuk oilfields, the
greatest prize in northern Iraq.

General Mustafa said that he did not expect the Iraqi army in Kirkuk to put
up much resistance, but they were frightened to surrender.

Unlike Kirkuk, Mosul, the largely Arab capital of northern Iraq, has been
bombed. General Mustafa said: "The US has forces close to Mosul but they are
there secretly." He added that the war in the north was turning out very
differently from how the Kurds had expected a month ago when they had
thought Turkey would allow an American land army to cross into northern Iraq
and capture Mosul.


The northern front of the offensive against President Saddam has been slow
to develop because of the unexpected refusal of Turkey to support the
American and British invasion. Because of that, intelligence reports that
the Kirkuk oilfields had been captured could be an attempt to keep the Iraqi
high command focused on the north of the country.

The Iraqi army is expected to fight for Baghdad and Tikrit, but had probably
written off Basra and the far south from an early stage. Basra is too close
to Kuwait and too far from Baghdad to defend. It is also an overwhelmingly
Shia Muslim city with little sympathy for President Saddam.

The Iraqi leader's strategy, according to one veteran Iraqi observer, is "to
draw the war out, to make it last for 20 days or more".

President Saddam can do that best by forcing the Allies to fight in the
cities where they cannot use their airpower and the Iraqi army knows the
terrain better than they do.

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