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Brent Sadler: Kurds eyeball to eyeball with Iraqis

CNN's Brent Sadler reports that some Iraqi forces in northern Iraq appear to be waiting to "come down and give themselves up."

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NORTHERN IRAQ (CNN) -- U.S. and coalition ground forces are on their way to Baghdad through southern Iraq. On the northern front, Kurdish forces stare down Saddam Hussein's loyalists, dozens of miles from Mosul.

CNN Correspondent Brent Sadler is in northern Iraq with Kurdish troops. He talked with anchor Carol Costello early Friday about the situation there.

SADLER: Things are looking pretty quiet here compared with the drama of the U.S. 7th Cavalry's thrust north toward Baghdad.

In the past six hours, there have been two airstrikes against Iraqi targets. We believe there are significant Iraqi troop concentrations of artillery pieces in the area around Mosul. That's Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, about 35 to 40 miles behind me, behind those hills.

Just before daybreak, we saw Iraqi anti-aircraft fire at the same time we heard aircraft activity in the sky. Then, just a couple of hours after daybreak, we witnessed more heavy explosions as a second airstrike went in.

Now, just behind me, we have a static situation. Those hills behind me are the territory of Saddam Hussein's loyalists -- at least they're his loyalists for now.

Some of the [Iraqi] troops have been changed around over the past few hours. According to the Kurds on the ground on my side, they say that some of those [Iraqi] troops had been passing secret messages to the Kurds that they wanted to give themselves up.

Now the Kurds say some [Iraqi] units will switch around. There has been a lot of activity on those ridge lines for the past several hours -- vehicles moving, front loaders changing barricades and the like.

There's also a suspicion that the Iraqis have been laying explosives along the road that leads to Mosul.

But it's interesting that there's really no hostile fire between the two sides -- the Kurdish and Iraqi forces. They mainly eyeball each other. The Kurds use binoculars, field glasses, to watch the Iraqis. And the Iraqis watch the Kurds.

Some senior Kurdish commanders came down here several hours ago because they thought something was going to happen, given all the unusual activity of the Iraqis behind me. Indeed it did: For a brief moment, there were two bursts of heavy machine gun fire.

The suspicion was that a group of journalists got pretty close to the Iraqis, so the Iraqis fired a couple of warning shots from heavy machine guns. There were echoes through the area here, and people ducked for several minutes.

But as long as neither the Kurds nor the Iraqis move, this situation is expected to remain as is.

It does seem rather surreal that I'm talking to you here. If I were to walk several minutes down there, I would come across Saddam Hussein's soldiers and I probably wouldn't be coming back to this Kurdish side of the line.

So it's an extraordinary situation here that, for the moment, does not seem likely to change unless the U.S.-led coalition, possibly with Kurdish support, moves on the two very important cities of Kirkuk or Mosul.

COSTELLO: We were looking at an extraordinary contrast between the U.S. military personnel and the Iraqi military personnel. I must say, at first glance, the Iraqi military looks rather old-fashioned.

SADLER: More than old-fashioned, the Iraqi military is not properly equipped. And there have been consistent reports from northern Iraq ... that the Iraqi forces are not only underequipped, they are underfed.

There also have been reports that Iraqi soldiers have been buying local uniforms, so they can throw their Iraqi Army kit away in order to melt into the regular population or surrender.

It's interesting that Kurdish intelligence has actually, according to my sources, tried to deter some of the senior Iraqi officers within Saddam Hussein's units not to defect too prematurely. They want to have eyes and ears inside the Iraqi military.

The Kurds rely a lot on intelligence reports. [They can't see] what's happening in the oil fields around Kirkuk, what's happening to the Iraqi army morale and the morale inside Kirkuk city itself and Mosul. The Kurds say they've asked Iraqi officers not to defect because they want those intelligence reports.

Right now, we are the closest anyone is getting to Iraqi soldiers. They are looking pretty low in terms of [equipment]. I've only seen one 106 antitank piece, a couple of heavy machine guns and, mainly, Iraqis just appearing to be waiting for the moment when they can just come down and give themselves up.

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