Chamchamal, March 28 (Reuters): Hundreds of jubilant Kurdish peshmerga fighters today poured across an abandoned Iraqi frontline after President Saddam Hussein’s forces had retreated to the key northern oil hub of Kirkuk.
But a shell attack on the Kurdish-controlled town of Chamchamal later took the Kurds by surprise, reminding them of how dangerous their enemy remains despite the arrival of US paratroopers in the area and continued US aerial bombing.
Peshmergas fired automatic weapons at a portrait of Saddam at the entrance to the abandoned barrack town of Qarahanjir, spraying concrete and dust into the air. Later, a bulldozer came and toppled the picture of the Kurds’ most hated figure.
“This is like being born again,” beamed Baqir Faraj, the driver of the bulldozer. “What a great day,” added Aram Rauf, a 24-year-old Kurdish fighter wearing a red headscarf, the baggy green trousers of the peshmerga and a belt with hand grenades and a pistol. “If we don’t get rid of Saddam Hussein this time, then we probably never will.”
Kurdish commander Mam Rostam said he had sent around 300 peshmergas, wearing trademark baggy green trousers and carrying Kalashnikov rifles, into the abandoned territory. But he said no force had been used to trigger the collapse.
There was, however, little sign of a hasty retreat by the Iraqis, though a few army helmets, a pair of boots and blankets could be seen strewn along the road. Guns and mortars had also been left on the hilltop positions above Chamchamal.
Taking Kirkuk, a strategically-important city, may not be so easy, with Iraqis said to be digging in and encircling it.
And perhaps to remind Iraqi Kurds that their enemy was not yet conquered, Iraqi artillery, probably from near Kirkuk, opened fire on Chamchamal as dusk fell, forcing families who had just returned there to flee again to the north.