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Kurdish guerrillas battle Iraqi Fedayeen in Mankubah

MANKUBAH, Iraq—It's an ugly, dusty farm town in northern Iraq, and for the second straight day Mankubah was the scene of fierce fighting between the Saddam Fedayeen and Kurdish guerrillas who are being backed up by U.S. special forces.

Battle-weary guerrillas said the fanatical Saddam Fedayeen (Self-Sacrificers for Saddam), who have pledged to die for the Iraqi dictator, were fighting in their trademark black uniforms, black head-covers and dark glasses.

The Fedayeen, supported by tank and artillery units from the Republican Guard, seem determined to make a stand here in Mankubah. The town is 12 miles east of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and one of the country's largest oil fields lies just a few miles to the north.

Iraqi units deployed along the border with the autonomous ethnic enclave of Iraqi Kurdistan have been retreating all week. They've abandoned frontier checkpoints and bunkers in order to fall back to help defend Mosul and the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Friday's fighting in Mankubah centered on the Khazir Bridge, a rickety, iron contraption about 50 yards long. Guerrillas took the bridge and entered Mankubah in the morning, then spent much of the afternoon retreating, advancing, then retreating again.

U.S. bombers pounded Iraqi positions all day, but once the smoke from a bomb or missile would clear, the Fedayeen's guns and mortars would open up again and drive the guerrillas back.

In the late afternoon, a small squad of Kurdish guerrillas—they are known here as peshmerga, or "those who face death"—advanced cautiously over the little bridge and into the town. But when a young guerrilla hung a yellow Kurdistan Democratic Party flag on a bridge girder, his unit immediately came under fire.

It wasn't long before the peshmerga and their American comrades were in full retreat.

As the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, one retreating guerrilla fighter pulled up to a special forces bunker driving a bit of war booty—a Russian-made jeep with a radio and some grenade launchers in the back.

"The Fedayeen were fighting us in the town," the man said. "We saw lots of them in their black clothes and head covers. The execution battalion that was behind them pulled back to Mosul."

Execution battalions monitor regular army and Republican Guard divisions to ensure there are no desertions or surrenders. During the war, they've been empowered to execute deserters and defectors.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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