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Iraq: Oil City Of Kirkuk Falls To Coalition, Kurds

Kirkuk, 10 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Coalition-backed Kurdish fighters today captured the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk. News agencies and TV networks say the city fell without any resistance after Iraqi forces gave up defending it.

A reporter for Turkish NTV said Kirkuk's residents spilled into the streets in jubilation, but added that widespread looting has already started.

Earlier reports said the towns of Kamhmur, Altun Kutri, and Khaneqin had also fallen into the hands of Kurdish units. Kurdish fighters said there was no resistance and that large numbers of Iraqi soldiers appear to have defected.

In Baghdad, one U.S. Marine was killed and 20 were wounded in a battle around a mosque early today in the northwestern district of Baghdad. The battle is reported to have ended.

U.S. warplanes have been striking the western districts of the capital, where sectors are still controlled by supporters of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

At U.S. Central Command in Qatar, military spokesman Captain Frank Thorp said further battles lay ahead and that elements of Iraq's Republican Guard are gathering around the northern cities of Tikrit and Mosul.

Tikrit is Hussein's hometown. Mosul is Iraq's third-largest city and close to the northern border with the Kurdish autonomous area.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqis are targeting luxury homes of former ranking officials of Hussein's regime, as widespread looting continued today in Baghdad.

The villas of Hussein's son Uday and daughter Hallah, his half-brother Watban, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, as well as several army generals, were systematically ransacked.

Looters also moved into the German Embassy and the French Cultural Center.

Several government buildings, including the Transport Ministry and the Oil Ministry, were among the latest buildings to be cleaned up.

Yesterday, looters ransacked and partially burned the Olympic Committee, Uday's headquarters in Baghdad, as well as the offices of the security police.

Widespread looting has also been reported in a number of other Iraqi cities and towns, including Basra and Kirkuk.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States will have "a leading role for some time" in rebuilding postwar Iraq.

Powell says in an interview in today's issue of the U.S. daily "The Los Angeles Times" that the coalition that has fought in Iraq will be responsible for shaping the new government and selecting transitional leaders. He rejected the possibility of the UN taking a primary role.

But Powell said the United States is likely to seek a series of UN resolutions endorsing its work in Iraq, including endorsements for the transitional Iraqi authority, the sale of oil, and the continuation of the oil-for-food program.

Powell also welcomed a possible NATO role in postwar Iraq, but said NATO would not replace U.S. leadership.

Retired U.S. General Jay Garner, the U.S.-chosen head of Iraq's interim authority, is expected to soon meet with Iraqi opposition leaders to discuss the country's new government. No date or venue has yet been set.