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Iraq Reinforces the North


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Kurdish and US sources report Iraqi forces mobilizing at the frontiers of

the Kurdish-controlled areas.

By Azad Chalak in Suleimaniya, northern Iraq

As the countdown to war continues, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has

moved military reinforcements close to the border with the liberated

Kurdish region, mirroring a similar build-up on his southern border with


In addition to troop and tank reinforcements on the edge of the 32nd

parallel - the limit of the no-fly zone imposed by the US and UK over

northern Iraq - the skies over the oil city of Kirkuk only a short

distance outside the liberated area have in recent days been covered in a

thick, black cloud of smoke.

The reason for the smoke barrier obscuring Kirkuk is not known. Kurdish

leaders believe the Iraqi regime may be creating a literal smokescreen in

hope of interfering with US satellites and reconnaissance flights over the

northern front-line area. But there are also reports that a number of

mines planted around the Kirkuk oil wells have accidentally exploded,

starting a series of fires.

According to these sources, the mines have been laid in recent weeks by

Russian experts working with the Iraqis. Their purpose may be to enable

the destruction of the oil wells should Kirkuk be captured by American


Although unconfirmed as yet, these reports were strengthened on Tuesday by

claims that the United States had detected movements of explosives towards

the Kirkuk oilfields.

US officials said last week that Saddam Hussein had moved Ababil-50 and

Ababil-100 missiles north of Baghdad in order to be in a position to

threaten the populations of Kirkuk and Mosul - once predominantly Kurdish,

but now almost wholly "Arabised" - after a takeover by American or Kurdish


The officials said Saddam had also boosted his southern defences by

placing surface-to-surface missiles within range of Kuwait, which is

hosting US combat forces. The missiles are mobile and have range enough to

reach Kuwait city. The officials said Saddam appeared to be attempting to

put in place systems that could threaten US-led invasion forces and local

resistance movements - including the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq.

Despite the military build-up along the Kurdish front line, Kurdish

officials believe that many army officers - including generals - will

desert as soon as war begins and join American and British forces in the

liberated area.

But the build-up has deepened the fears of ordinary Kurds, who have

suffered so much at the hands of Saddam's regime. They are hoping the war

will be short, as the United States and Britain are promising. If Saddam

remains in power, and Kurds have to face the consequences of his regime

once again, many would try to leave Iraq in order to claim asylum abroad.

Kurds are also concerned about a possible occupation by Turkish troops.

Turkey has not concealed its concern that a war to remove Saddam Hussein

might result in the disintegration of Iraq and the establishment, in

northern Iraq, of a Kurdish state that would encourage new agitation

within Turkey's own Kurdish population. The Turks also have historic

claims to the oil wealth of Mosul, just outside the liberated area.

Kurdish leaders have expressed outrage over Turkey's desire to send its

troops into northern Iraq and hope the United States can persuade Turkey

not to enter the liberated area.

Azad Chalak is head of Suleimaniya Radio, in Kurdish-controlled northern


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