Image: Irqi Resident Takes Bag Of Cash From Mosul Central Bank
An Iraqi man protects himself with a knife as he walks away with a bag of cash after looters emptied the central bank in Mosul on Friday.

Smoke billowed over the skyline of this oil-rich city Friday as U.S. special operations forces, backed by Kurdish rebel fighters, attempted to gain control over one of Saddam Hussein’s strongholds in the north of Iraq. Looting was rampant and it appeared there were too few Kurdish fighters and U.S. soldiers to restore order.

The United States announced earlier Friday that an agreement had been reached with Iraqi commanders for most of the regular army troops here to surrender, and indeed most regular forces appeared to have left the city.

But on Thursday evening, hundreds of individuals who local residents said claimed to be Kurdish rebel forces ransacked much of the town and began carrying away goods.

Kurdish commanders were adamant that they had no forces inside Mosul until Friday and blamed the looting on Saddam loyalists. Some Arab residents interviewed Friday said they, too, believed the looters, who created chaos that lasted into Friday morning, were loyalists dressed as Kurds.

Many residents seemed desperate for help. Even some Arabs, normally wary of the Kurds, wondered when the Americans would arrive and told journalists, “Send us the peshmerga (Kurdish rebel forces). Send us anyone who can take control.”


The Americans were lightly armed, arriving in civilian vehicles.

At one point, some of them drove through town with a large American flag on top of their vehicle, in an apparent attempt at a show of force or to at least let people know that they were there. But the flourish seemed to have little effect.

Some journalists were pinned down near the central bank in a firefight involving U.S. special operations forces. As a result, most reporters had left the city.

All major government buildings had been ransacked. Looters emerged from the central bank with handfuls of cash while others targeted private businesses. Many buildings were ablaze. It was not clear whether the fires were set by looters or by retreating Iraqi loyalists.

Both the Americans and the Kurds appeared to have too few troops in the city to establish control, at least for now. “We are greatly outnumbered,” Kurdish commander Rozgar Murishawez told us. “We had warned the Americans of the situation here, but they were not able to provide any more troops so we are providing several hundred peshmergas to back up the American operation.”

The operation seemed clearly American-led. U.S. special operations forces were giving deployment orders to Kurdish troops both in the city and at the nearby airport.

Murishawez said he doubted if the situation would be under control any time soon. “There’s no way we can enforce a curfew,” he said. “There’s no way we can gain control of the situation.”

He said he was not aware of any American reinforcements and that Kurds would try to move more of their forces into the town.

The Mosul region is one of Saddam’s strongholds in northern Iraq, with a majority Arab population. Most of the Iraqi troops in the area were regular army units, however, who were not expected to put up much of a fight. Many of them changed out of their uniforms and disappeared in the past two or three days.

(’s Preston Mendenhall is on assignment in northern Iraq.)

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