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Kevin Sites: Kurds see bombing on northern Iraqi positions

CNN's Kevin Sites
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CHAMCHAMAL, Iraq (CNN) -- At least eight bombs fell Monday on Iraqi front-line positions near the Kurdish-controlled town of Chamchamal in northern Iraq, according to sources with Pesh Murga, the militia for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The latter is one of the two Kurdish ruling parties in northern Iraq.

CNN Anchor Daryn Kagan spoke Monday with CNN's Kevin Sites, who heard the explosions.

SITES: Pesh Murga say eight bombs fell on this front-line position ... where we are just about 1,000 meters from. Now they say that they saw the bombs actually hit, and they saw the Iraqis moving injured soldiers down the mountain, away from the ridge line, away from some of the exposed areas.

Some of these Iraq positions look like they are untouched. The bombs may have hit on the other side of the ridge line. Right now it's kind of a windy and rainy day here, so you can't see any smoke left. But our Pesh Murga sources say, basically that there was a huge rumbling, and in fact, we were midway between Sulaimaniya and Chamchamal here, and we could actually hear the explosions.

We had to take a trip to Sulaimaniya, and we were on our way back when the explosions happened. And you could hear the rumblings that far away. So obviously there was some movement there.

Now what this may signify ... perhaps this is the beginning to soften these front Iraqi defensive positions. They're not heavily fortified as far as what we can see. They have couple of Dushka machine guns up there. They're Russian-made machine guns. They're heavy machine guns. They had some tanks in these positions probably a week ago.

But the Pesh Murga said that those tanks had pulled back, maybe farther to the defensive positions in Kirkuk. But if this is indeed an air campaign beginning to soften up these initial front lines, maybe they are hoping that the Iraqi positions will fall back closer to Kirkuk. And maybe a larger offensive will begin shortly. But as far as we can see, the Iraqi soldiers are still in these hills.

KAGAN: As far as coalition forces are concerned, Kevin, do you have any information if there were any injuries or casualties in the coalition?

SITES: Well, at this point the Iraqis have not been firing back on this location. I think they are basically scrambling to assess what has happened to them right now. There hasn't been any firing on this side.

But in terms of coalition forces coming into this area, there are reports that actually moved on the wires [Sunday] night -- American soldiers may have come in transport planes near Sulaimaniya ... to assist the Pesh Murga in taking on a couple of fronts against the Iraqis here in Chamchamal and possibly also another front against the Ansar al-Islam. That's the fundamentalist group that Secretary of State Colin Powell says is the al Qaeda link to the Iraqi regime with Saddam Hussein. So they may go ahead on two fronts.

Now, those Ansar al-Islam strongholds had been hit by U.S. bombs for two nights in a row. So those positions are being softened up possibly for a Pesh Murga attack in the coming days.

Now this is the first time these front-line positions where we're at have actually been hit by bombing. We have been here going on five days now, a few days before the war began. And there has not been any kind of bombing against this front-line position in Chamchamal. The Iraqis have fired some mortars in the direction of Chamchamal and some heavy machine-gun fire. So far there has been no return fire from this side, the Pesh Murga.

Now, if this is indeed a U.S. bombing raid against these front-line positions it may signify the beginning of a campaign to roll back these Iraqi defenses toward Kirkuk and begin a campaign against that city in earnest.

That is the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is such a strategic and important stronghold for U.S. forces to get control of before the possibility of [those oil wells] actually being damaged or blown up as Saddam Hussein did after the first Gulf War. The last thing they would like to see here is those oil wells going up in flames. That would be a serious problem for them.


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