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Iraq: Northern Cities Continue To Fall Amid Looting And Disorder


Prague, 11 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The city of Mosul in northern Iraq today fell to U.S. and Kurdish forces, leaving Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit as the last significant stronghold of Iraqi resistance. The U.S. military said an entire Iraqi army division surrendered at Mosul, the country's third-largest city.

U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said the Iraqi 5th Corp's commander signed a cease-fire agreement and Iraqi soldiers will start going home.

U.S. forces in northern Iraq also began securing oilfields and the airport in the oil center of Kirkuk, which fell to U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters yesterday.

Kurds have agreed to leave both Kirkuk and Mosul once U.S. forces are ready to take over authority in the two cities.

But amid widespread looting in both cities, a top official with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Barham Salih, cited orders from PUK leader Jalal Talabani and said Kurdish fighters would leave only when U.S. troops could ensure stability. "Mr. Talabani has issued orders for peshmerga forces of the PUK to leave the city as soon as there are sufficient numbers of American military personnel inside the city in order for them to take control of the law and order," Salih said.

Brooks said coalition forces are "certainly going to focus" on Tikrit, some 175 kilometers north of Baghdad, which apparently remained the last major center still under the Iraqi regime's control.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that in Baghdad, the health system in Baghdad has "virtually collapsed" because of widespread looting as well as power and water outages.

ICRC coordinator Pascal Jansen said that only three of Baghdad's 32 hospitals are operating at all. Another coordinator described the situation as "chaotic and catastrophic."

Meanwhile, the White House said today that there is no widespread humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer told a briefing today that food and other necessities are being sent to the wartorn country. Fleischer said bringing in relief is U.S. President George W. Bush's major priority concerning Iraq.

The White House press secretary acknowledged that there are "pockets" in Iraq that face shortages of food, water, or medicine. Fleischer said these concerns are being addressed. He said widespread looting in some cities will be dealt with.

Fleischer said to a large degree the deposed regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is responsible for the current situation involving civilians because of his past practices.

In Moscow, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov today said President Vladimir Putin tried to get Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to resign only days before the United States launched its attack on Baghdad.

Primakov is a Middle East specialist who now heads Russia's Chamber of Trade and Industry. Primakov said he held a secret meeting with Hussein in Baghdad days before the 20 March launch of the war.

Interfax news agency quoted Primakov as saying Hussein silently listened to the Russian proposal and then asked Primakov to repeat it in the presence of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.

Primakov said that after that, Hussein "made several comments that were in no way related to" Russia's proposal that he resign.

Russian officials had earlier denied media reports that diplomats secretly tried to convince Hussein to flee into exile.

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