U.S. military expands control over Iraq
American troops took the northern city of Mosul without a fight and awaited surrender from holdout forces in western Iraq on Friday, dismantling the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime. U.S. officials agreed to stem looting in Baghdad and other areas.
In a war nearly won, President Bush said he didn’t know whether the Iraqi ruler was alive or dead. “I know he’s no longer in power,” Bush added.
Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, fell when an entire Army Corps evaporated, a force of roughly 30,000 on paper but far less in reality.
That left Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, as the biggest population center not under the control of American-led forces. Iraqi troops there have been battered by airstrikes and don’t present an effective fighting force, U.S. military officials said. They said some troops may have already fled. U.S. commanders were planning for battle in the next several days.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he expected fighting to end soon in Qaim, a town near Iraq’s western border with Syria. “There have been intelligence reports that the leaders … want to surrender. And so, I think that’s going to be worked out today, tomorrow,” he said.
Looting swiftly erupted in Mosul — hospital ambulances were taken at gunpoint — and lawlessness continued to plague Baghdad and Kirkuk, cities that fell in the past few days.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld described the lawlessness as “untidiness,” but pledged the troops’ help to stop it. “Where they see looting, they are stopping it,” he said.
The State Department is sending 26 police and judicial officers to Iraq as part of what eventually is expected to be a team of nearly 1,200 to help restore order, spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Across Iraq, there were scenes of personal anguish, mixed with moments of hope.
Men, women and children lay in hospitals without adequate medical supplies, and Baghdad residents worked frantically to find missing relatives in a rumored subterranean prison.
But thousands of former Iraqi soldiers walked from northern cities toward Baghdad down sun-baked highways after abandoning their military positions, eager to return home after being forced by the dead regime to take up arms.
Bush, visiting troops wounded in battle, told reporters the war would end when Gen. Tommy Franks, the commanding general, told him the objectives had been achieved.
Saddam and his sons are “either dead or they’re running like hell,” said Franks, top commander of the war.
U.S. intelligence has monitored some communications in which Iraqis affiliated with Saddam’s regime claim he is dead, a U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. But he said the conversations could be speculation or deception.
The U.S. Central Command issued a deck of playing cards bearing pictures of 52 members of the ruling elite so the troops could better know who they were searching for. “There are jokers in this deck,” Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said, and Saddam is the ace of spades.
Apart from Saddam, there were no signs of weapons of mass destruction, or of missing American prisoners of war. Officials said the search for both would intensify.
Despite a string of unchecked battlefield gains, and an announcement that some British naval and air forces were being sent home, the White House and military commanders said the war wasn’t over.
“There’s still plenty of fighting to be done,” said Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace. In Baghdad, he said, the problem lies with the “knuckleheads … operating and fighting on the last orders they were given. They either don’t know what is going on or are feeling obligated to keep fighting on.”
U.S. warplanes fired six satellite-guided bombs at an intelligence building in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, in a predawn attack. Officials said they believed Brazan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother and close adviser, was inside.
To the west, U.S. special operations forces maintained roadblocks along border crossings to Syria, under orders to prevent regime members from fleeing Iraq.
With suicide bombings a continuing threat for American troops, several people were killed during the day in a series of shootings at U.S. military checkpoints when vehicles refused to stop. Two children died in Nasiriyah and three adults were killed in a separate incident in Baghdad.
In another incident in Baghdad, a tank crew opened fire on a bus that failed to heed warning shots. The driver was killed, and the crew said it found Iraqi military uniforms inside the vehicle.
There was no accurate count of the number of troops in the Iraqi Army’s 5th Corps in Mosul, the third largest city with a large Arab population as well as Kurds and ethnic Turks.
Lawlessness quickly broke out as the army vanished, and U.S. special forces and hundreds of Kurdish fighters entered a city in anarchy. “Why are you late?” some residents shouted as the convoy rolled into town.
Residents plundered the central bank, making off with wads of Iraqi dinars and throwing bills into the air. The government printing office was set ablaze, as were several Baath Party offices.
Mosul University’s library, repository of rare manuscripts, also was ransacked despite appeals broadcast from mosque minarets pleading for an end to the anarchy.
“There is absolutely no security. The medical staff is scared for their safety. The city has fallen into anarchy,” said Dr. Darfar Ibrahim Hasan, a physician at Saddam General Hospital.
Lt. Col. Robert Waltemeyer, commander of special forces in the area, announced an overnight curfew and said U.S. forces would tolerate no looting or reprisals. “However, I cannot do this with just American forces. I need your help,” he told local tribal and clan leaders.
Mosul was the second northern city to fall in as many days. U.S. troops and Kurdish fighters entered Kirkuk, gateway to the northern oil fields on Thursday. The Kurds said they were prepared to leave, in deference to Turkish concerns, when Americans arrived in numbers.
Top commanders of the 1st Marine Division held the first of what is expected to be a series of daily meetings with representatives of humanitarian organizations and local officials. The session was part of an effort to restore the city’s utilities, services and infrastructure, damaged by war and the subsequent lawlessness.
“We know they need water. Obviously they need power. They need police,” said Col. Steve Hummer, commanding officer of the Marine division. “But we are not a police force,” he added, a declaration seconded by Brooks at the U.S. Central Command.