Kurdish capital left to lick its wounds as Iraqis withdraw

Policing Saddam: Hugh Pope reports from Arbil, the city Saddam helped the KDP to conquer

The new Iraqi Kurdish rulers of Arbil yesterday proved that the last Iraqi armoured vehicles had withdrawn from the city. They showed foreign reporters a bruised population of 1 million people who are now short of food, must walk miles for water and have no electricity at all.

The last Iraqis withdrew overnight from around the blasted shell of the parliament building to take up position some 10 miles south-east of Arbil, near Kushtepe, United Nations sources and local people said. There, just north of the 35th parallel and the Iraqis' former front line, a mechanised Iraqi battalion of some 50 armoured vehicles and a light, towed artillery battery of 12 guns were parked in a field by the road. The Iraqis did not seem to be digging in and appeared ready to withdraw, the UN sources said.

The soldiers' main purpose at that point between the front lines of the two rival Iraqi Kurdish factions seemed to be to prevent the retreating Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) from trying to launch a counter-attack to dislodge the new masters of Arbil, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

In the Iraqi Kurdish capital itself, hundreds of KDP fighters still milled around the entrance to the seat of the administration, the governor's office, or lounged in the shade on pavements in front of closed shop shutters. Only a few shops, selling food, were open in the city.

The KDP seemed in complete control of Arbil, and determined to prevent any looting by revenge-minded fighters. At one checkpoint, a convoy of armed guerrillas was barred from entering, leading to angry scenes and the training of heavy machine guns on the guerrillas until they left.

Thanks to the overwhelming force applied to the Saturday assault, backed by Iraqi light artillery and tank fire, the fight had been short and the damage to the city seemed minimal. Nobody disputed the KDP's figure of fewer than 200 people killed and injured.

A decision to position UN vehicles around the city as soon as the fighting had died down reassured people, encouraged them not to flee, and deterred guerrillas from committing atrocities, the UN sources said.

"In this situation our presence is vital," said the UN chief of security in Iraqi Kurdistan, the former Danish special forces colonel, Poul Dahl. "There is no reason for evacuation."

The mansion used by the PUK leader Jalal Talabani in the city had been wrecked and looted, with black smoke marks scarring the window lintels. The same scene was repeated at many other houses and bases used by senior PUK officials in the city.

Such places were often previously used by top Iraqi officials and had been damaged in the much more destructive PUK takeover of the city in December 1994, part of the factional infighting that has split Iraqi Kurdistan in two.

KDP members were busily painting out prominent placards on former PUK buildings, while women walked for miles under the scorching sun, carrying buckets or water tanks to the few places where generators were pumping water from wells.

Foreign aid sources said that it was likely that the electricity would be restored soon, since the power cut did not appear to be political in origin. It resulted from a break in the power lines between the rival Iraqi- Kurdish front lines. A local ceasefire had to be arranged before the lines could be repaired.

The KDP also took down the Iraqi flags that had been flying beside the Kurdish flag above the parliament and the fortified old town that dominates the city - an apparent concession to foreign opinion shocked by their collaboration with President Saddam Hussein's regime.

Local opinion in Arbil was sharply divided over the weekend's events. Small groups that formed to discuss the question agreed that while they still feared President Saddam, they were sick of the situation and would like to see a return to more central government, while keeping their federal Iraqi Kurdistan.

Some feared the continued presence of Iraqi secret police, although their checkpoints, if they existed at all, seem to have been set up only on Saturday and Sunday. Some townspeople even thought that the Iraqi soldiers had behaved very properly.

"There is little to eat and it's very expensive. But we hope that it is the start of stability," 65-year-old Hussain Rahim said, as he stood in front of the blown-out windows of a tailors' shop and complained that armed men had stolen his car.

Standing underneath the blast-ripped canopy over a shop that sold Turkish Pepsi Cola cooled with ice just brought in from the Iraqi Arab city of Mosul, one man said that he thought the time had come for reunification of the country.

"We embraced America, but we saw nothing from them for the past five years," said long-distance lorry driver Yagoub Othman. "We used to approve of American bombing. But now we don't. We are Iraqis, and proud of it."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: Physics Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment is currently working ...

Recruitment Genius: Case Manager - Occupational Therapist / Physiotherapist

£28000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee