| Imran Khan takes part in a march in London on Saturday to commemorate those killed during the war in Iraq. (AP/PTI)
Kirkuk, April 13 (Reuters): The first US armour rumbled into central Kirkuk today as the military increased its presence in the strategic oil hub of northern Iraq, to reassure Turkey that it would not be run by local Kurds.
Bemused locals stared on as two tanks and three armoured personnel carriers arrived to back up American soldiers.
Life began to return to normal in many quarters, with shops opening and traffic flowing.
Tankers distributed water while electricians worked to repair power and telephone cables damaged by US bombing and the looting that ensued.
The number of Kurdish fighters also appeared to have dropped drastically since Friday and yesterday, after Kurdish leaders promised to withdraw the bulk of their forces and hand over control of the city to the Americans.
But the number of US troops seen on the streets by noon today was still small, and most were guarding strategic sites and entrance roads to the city.
Hundreds of Kurdish fighters had poured into Kirkuk when Iraqi government forces collapsed on Thursday amid euphoric scenes, but the atmosphere soon turned sour as looting, vandalism and sporadic violence began.
Unlike Mosul, another oil-rich city to the northwest, lawlessness in Kirkuk has petered out, raising hopes that the ethnically diverse city of 700,000 people can be controlled by a relatively small number of US forces.
“There is definitely a lot of difference between today and yesterday,” said Lieutenant Kenji Price of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, guarding the city’s administrative headquarters with six colleagues.
“Yesterday there were still crowds and confusion, but today the local police are restoring order, as well as water supplies and electricity. But we are still on high alert.”
Local residents from Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkish-speaking Turkmen communities had complained bitterly yesterday that power and water were cut only after the Kurds descended on the city.
They also blamed Kurds, including peshmerga fighters, for joining in the looting and setting ablaze buildings once belonging to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
“The Kurds did a little robbing, which I think was a reaction to the old regime,” said Andraus Sanna, bishop of the Chaldean Catholic cathedral in Kirkuk. “They suffered greatly (under Saddam).”
Tens of thousands of Kurds were forced to leave homes in the city during Saddam’s programme of arabisation, and an uprising in Kirkuk in 1991 after the last Gulf War was brutally put down.
Some Arabs and Turkmen feared reprisals, but there has not been widespread violence.
The arrival of hundreds of peshmerga also alarmed Turkey, which fears Iraqi Kurds could use the city’s oil wealth to finance an independent state and stimulate separatist demands among its own Kurdish minority.
Ankara said it had three groups of military observers, each five-strong, operating in northern Iraq.