Prague, 11 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. troops and Kurdish fighters today captured Iraq's third-largest city of Mosul, after an entire corps of Iraqi troops surrendered without a fight.
Looting has broken out in the city, and a central market was set on fire.
U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said Iraqi officials signed a cease-fire accord. "A coalition Special Operations commander accepted a signed cease-fire agreement from the Iraqi 5th Corps commander, regular army, near Mosul," Brooks said.
The U.S. military says it's now deciding whether to treat the surrendered Iraqi soldiers as prisoners of war or to let them return home. Hundreds of unarmed Iraqi soldiers, many of them bootless, were already seen heading home on foot from the Mosul area.
The fall of Mosul comes a day after U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters took control of another key northern city, oil-rich Kirkuk.
That rattled Turkey, which worries that Kurdish control of the city could encourage Kurds to form an independent state in the region. But Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said today that Kurdish forces have now started to move out of the city.
That's what Mam Rostam, a senior Kurdish commander, had earlier promised would happen: "We are waiting for the American commanders for negotiations, and then we will pull our [peshmerga] forces out to their initial positions outside Kirkuk. An American general is going to meet all the representatives of Kirkuk, including Kurds, Arabs, Asyrians, and Turkomans to set up a government committee."
U.S. troops are now trying to assess what forces remain in and around Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
In Baghdad, armed residents roamed the streets and looted buildings, including at least one hospital. International aid officials criticized U.S. and British troops for failing to curb the looting, saying it threatens to deepen the humanitarian and health crisis in Iraq.
Today there were reports that U.S. troops have appealed for Iraqis running public services in the capital to come forward and help them tackle disorder.
But Brooks said coalition troops in Baghdad have no intention of becoming a police force. "If the coalition simply imposes control on the population, that wouldn't achieve the desired affect, [to stop the looting]. We wouldn't be everywhere, and we might also alienate a population that doesn't need to have another regime with a grip around its neck, and so we have no intention of approaching that way," Brooks said.
Brooks also said the U.S. has issued a list of 55 senior officials wanted by the coalition.
At least one top official, however, appears to have quickly embraced democracy. Iraq's ambassador to the UN, Muhammad al-Duri, choked back tears as he told Al-Arabiya television that the Iraqi people must "look to the future with the feeling of freedom democracy, brotherhood and optimism."
The U.S. also expressed regret over the killing in Najaf yesterday of a senior Shia cleric working with coalition forces. Abd al-Majid al-Khoi was hacked to death inside Najaf's Ali mosque, just one week after returning from exile in London to help restore order in the city. He had gone to the mosque in a gesture of reconciliation to meet Haider Kelidar, a cleric loyal to Saddam Hussein.
The details of the incident are unclear. Some reports said another Shia faction was angered by Kelidar's presence. Others suggest the assailants were supporters of a Shia group whose leaders have not been allowed to return from abroad. Whatever the case, the crowd attacked both men and hacked them to death with swords and knives.
Before he left for Iraq, al-Khoi spoke to RFE/RL's Persian Service. He said then it was everyone's religious duty to work for the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. "The occupation of [Najaf] is neither the intention of the coalition forces nor what its citizens expect. [The aim is] to overthrow Saddam and liberate its people who have been oppressed for 35 years. To encourage this is the humanist and religious duty of everyone -- not only the ayatollahs, but everyone who has witnessed the oppression of the Iraqi people," he said.
In other news today:
-- The U.S. military said it bombed the residence near Baghdad of Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and the former head of Iraq's Mukhabarat intelligence service. One agency reported he was killed.
-- The U.S. said prominent Iraqis are set to meet in the coming week to start discussions on the country's future leadership.
-- Britain announced it is scaling back its troops in the Persian Gulf.
-- And three world leaders opposed to the war are meeting in Saint Petersburg today for talks on their possible role in postwar Iraq. The meeting brings together Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Russia rejected a suggestion by the U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that the best way the three could aid reconstruction is by writing off Iraq's debts.