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Airstrikes drove Iraqi soldiers south, U.S. team in north finds

BASHUR, Northern Iraq—A reconnaissance team from the 173rd Airborne Brigade scouted Iraqi lines Saturday near the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk. The team found that Iraqi forces had retreated south in the face of devastating airstrikes directed by U.S. special forces.

"We saw the old Iraqi positions, and it looked like they had the living s--- bombed out of them," said Capt. Eric Baus, a Collingswood, N.J., native and company commander.

Elsewhere in Northern Iraq, there was little action Saturday other than heavy, daylong bombing of Republican Guard and fedayeen paramilitary positions in the still-disputed town of Mankubah, 12 miles east of Mosul. It was the third day of the battle, and the Iraqis had fought the Kurdish guerrillas and U.S. Special Forces to a standstill.

It remained unclear, even to senior commanders, how U.S. forces planned to take the strategically important cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. With American tanks rolling through Baghdad, there was a growing hope that no battles would have to be fought in the north at all, that the Iraqi forces there would either surrender or melt away if Baghdad fell.

No tanks or armor had yet been brought in to join the lightly armed 173rd paratroopers, though members of the 1st Infantry Division had been working for several days to facilitate such a delivery by air.

The reconnaissance mission, led by Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, rolled out from Bashur Airfield at dawn Saturday in a convoy of Humvees. The paratroopers drew smiles, waves and cheers as they drove through villages in this semi-autonomous Kurdish enclave.

"I love you," one young girl yelled in English at the soldiers.

"Where are you going? Please stay," another man said in Kurdish as the procession left one area.

In a telling moment, though, the convoy's Kurdish escort, from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, refused to cross a checkpoint maintained by a rival faction of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Robert Young, a retired brigadier general who lived in the region from 1993 to 1994 and is advising the 173rd, said he worried that strife among the Kurdish factions was brewing just under the surface.

The convoy eventually linked up with members of the 10th Special Forces Group, who are working with Kurdish forces and directing airstrikes on Iraqi positions.

The special forces escorted Caraccilo and his men to the Iraqi lines.

The special forces troops reported that bombing had been so successful in the north that they were running out of targets, Baus said.

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(Dilanian reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Mark McDonald contributed to this report from northern Iraq.)

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

Iraq

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