U.S. flies troops, equipment into Kurdish-controlled Iraq

Arrival opens new phase in drive against Hussein

War in Iraq

March 24, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HALABJA, Iraq -- U.S. transport planes landed in northern Iraq on Saturday night and early yesterday, ferrying military equipment and allied troops into the Kurdish-controlled zone.

Their arrival opened a new phase in the war against Saddam Hussein's government and Ansar al-Islam, a militant Islamic group operating near the Iranian border. The landings occurred as airstrikes continued at the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, and as thousands of Kurdish fighters, known as pesh merga, were massing in this village, arriving in buses and trucks with their rifles and bedrolls.

They appeared to be readying for a large battle in nearby mountains held by Ansar guerrillas.

Kurdish officials said a ground assault with Kurdish and American forces cooperating against Ansar was now imminent, and that more planeloads of American soldiers would be arriving to fight Hussein's forces. There was no immediate confirmation of this from American officials.

Senior Kurdish officials said at least two planes carrying 200 American soldiers arrived at a former Iraqi airstrip at Bakrajo, near Sulaimaniya, capital of the eastern portion of the Kurdish enclave. The planes also carried attack helicopters and ammunition, the officials said.

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