U.S. Focuses on Iraqi Targets in the North
U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said Wednesday from Central Command in Qatar singled out Tikrit as one of the last strongholds of the Iraqi regime.
“We’ve seen there have been some forces deployed in and around the Tikrit area. Many of them have moved as we were having more and more success on the southwestern side of Baghdad and the southeastern side of Baghdad,” Brooks said.
“There’s been some repositioning to try and reinforce those initial defenses. The amount of force that remains in Tikrit… we are still making assessments of. We anticipate that any fighting that would occur there, if we happen to go to Tikrit, would be similar to what we’ve seen in other parts of the country,” Brooks said.
Protected by the Iraqi regime’s best-trained fighters, Tikrit, located some 100 miles north of Baghdad, is home to many of Saddam’s relatives and his most ardent supporters.
U.S. troops were blocking roads from Baghdad to Tikrit to prevent Iraqi loyalist leaders and troops from fleeing there from the Iraqi capital, Brooks said.
Central Command officials said coalition air strikes were striking the Republican Guard’s Adnan division in Tikrit to “shap[e] the battlefield” to allow U.S. ground forces to move in.
“I’m not predisposed as to when we might go in that direction… but we’re certainly focused on Tikrit to prevent the regime from being able to use it as place to command and control, to restore command and control, or to hide,” Brooks said.
Officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Iraqi Kurdish opposition groups, claimed that Saddam was already hiding in Tikrit. U.S. officials said they did not know if Saddam had escaped a bombing in the Iraqi capital on Monday targeting him and his sons, Uday and Qusay.
Further to the north, U.S. special operation forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized a strategic hilltop overlooking the city of Mosul, from which Iraqis had defended the northern city, Kurdish officials said on Wednesday.
Senior Kurdish leader Hoshyar Zebari, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said the assault removed the final barrier for their advance into Mosul, calling it the most important success in the region to date.
“From our perspective it was the most important gain … so far,” Zebari said. “This shows the crumbling of the northern front.”
Brooks confirmed on Wednesday that coalition forces took a northern town approximately 15 miles north of Mosul and captured nearly 200 Iraqi fighters.