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Brent Sadler: Iraqi opposition wants greater role

CNN's Brent Sadler
CNN's Brent Sadler

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CNN's Brent Sadler reports on the growing frustration of Iraqi opposition groups to join the fight. (March 25)
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KALAK, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition airstrikes pounded Iraqi front-line positions Wednesday in the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq. This action coincides with calls from Iraqi opposition groups that they play a larger role in the U.S.-led campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.

CNN Correspondent Brent Sadler talked to CNN Anchor Carol Costello about what he's observed in northern Iraq. The following is a partial transcript of his report.

SADLER: During the last few hours, there hasn't been any aircraft activity. But earlier [Wednesday] that was not the case. There were airstrikes, and that is a significant tactical change since the war began on Iraq.

That change in tactics coincides with calls from Iraq's main opposition groups that the U.S. start acknowledging that they could play a higher-profile role in trying to defeat Saddam Hussein's forces ...

We know there's a popular uprising going on [in Basra] and perhaps in other cities, the key northern ones being Kirkuk and Mosul. Opposition forces contend that American-led planning is failing to make the most of what they have to offer.

In the first open sign that the U.S. Central Command may be listening, a Marine Corps general has begun leading efforts to help coordinate activity, particularly along this largely inactive northern front.

Despite the opposition groups complaining about Iraqis not being involved in the fight for liberation, we are seeing Kurdish forces in this area coordinating ... with U.S. Special Forces that are on the ground here.

Those U.S. Special Forces are slowly increasing in strength. We understand they're flying into an airstrip in covert deployments at night and putting more forward air controllers in the line of battle. That may be why we're seeing these airstrikes on these front-line positions over the past several hours.

Also, the Kurds are working with Special Forces to encourage Iraqi defections among the three army corps behind the lines in Saddam Hussein's controlled area. Kurdish intelligence estimates that 60 to 70 percent of the officers are really die-hard Saddam Hussein loyalists.

So, while you've got the opposition complaining, you do have the key involvement already on the ground here with U.S. Special Force personnel in an attempt to soften targets and to really pull the rug from under the command and control structure of Saddam Hussein on his side of the lines behind me.

COSTELLO: Brent, I'm just curious. If the Kurds do join the fight, who would command them, and how would they be integrated into the coalition?

SADLER: Well, already the Kurds have said that they've put their ... forces under the command and control of the U.S. military.

We saw a U.S. Marine Corps general leading the coordination between the Kurds and U.S. Central Command on several fronts. U.S. leadership may use the Kurds ... to move into Kirkuk and Mosul, which they know very well.

... We do expect to see Turkish forces, if we are to believe what the Turkish military is saying, coming into up to about 20 kilometers, 13 miles into northern Iraq.

The Kurds have been saying they will oppose such an intervention. But you might [see] the Turks and the Kurds balancing their conflicting interests to stabilize this area, use the forces for pressure on Saddam Hussein and push with sufficient U.S. personnel and heavy equipment through those northern towns. ...

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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