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GULF WAR 2: KURDS PLEAD FOR EXTRA TROOPS: THE 2ND FRONT; Allies hit north as Turks hold back.

Byline: GARY JONES on Turkey-Iraq border

ALLIED bombers pounded Saddam's troops in northern Iraq yesterday in a bid to open a second front.

British and US planes struck at the Iraqi front line close to where Kurdish fighters - Saddam's bitter enemies - are preparing for an offensive.

But Kurdish commander Mam Rostam called for the attacks to be stepped up and for more troops to be sent to the region.

He said: "The bombing needs to be much heavier if they want to bring a swift end to this war.

"We want to take the fight to Saddam's forces, but we need more help. I hope it will not be long before the Iraqi troops are defeated."

As the offensive began, Turkish tanks massed on the border with Iraq. Turkey - viewed as an enemy by the Kurds - pledged they would only go in if a refugee crisis developed or if their forces came under attack.

Five huge explosions hit Iraqi posts yesterday, throwing up plumes of black smoke on the hilltops overlooking Chamchamal, a town in the Kurdish-controlled territory seized from Saddam after the 1991 Gulf War. The Iraqi-held city of Mosul also came under attack, as well as Kalak, 25 miles to the east.

Iraqi soldiers dug in on hilltops were reported to have fled.

Air strikes were also carried out yesterday close to the Iranian border where the radical Ansar al-Islam terrorist groups, with links to al-Qaeda, occupy around 40 villages in Iraqi territory.

Commander Rostram forecast that the operation against Ansar al-Islam fighters - several hundred are active in mountains near the town of Halabja, where 5,000 people died in a chemical attack by Saddam in 1988 - would be "completed soon".

Ansar fanatics have carried out a string of attacks on Kurdish targets.

One of their followers was blamed for last week's suicide bombing near Halabja which killed several people, including an Australian journalist. Allied forces are desperate to seize the biggest oilfields in Iraq at Kirkuk and Mosul before pushing south to join a siege of Baghdad.

The US has warned Kurdish commanders not to enter Mosul and Kirkuk in case that provokes Turkey to send troops across the border into Iraq. The Kurds have long predicted that the Iraqi front lines would collapse almost as soon as the bombs began to fall, but so far that has not happened. Meanwhile, Turkey's military leader General Himi Ozkok played down fears that his country would spark a "war within a war" by clashing with its long-time Kurdish enemies.

Turkey has just been give $1billion in return for allowing American jets to overfly.

General Ozkok added: "Because our strategic ally the United States is still in war in the region, our action will be in co-ordination with the United States."

General Ozkok, dressed in military fatigues, went on: "We will not go into northern Iraq to fight a war or to occupy. We have no intention to create a buffer zone. We have no secret aim or goal. We have no enmity against anyone."

Turkey has fought a bloody 15-year war against Kurds in the south east of the country.

Turkey fears that any independent Kurdish state in Iraq will cause more conflict with its own Kurds.


STANDING BY: Turkish tanks on the border with Iraq. Turkey says they will cross if they are attacked or if there is a refugee crisis; READY: Turk soldier
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:Mar 27, 2003
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