Feb. 04, 2003
HABUR GATE, Turkey – Iraq has boosted tank and artillery forces outside the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Mosul, but most of the soldiers look exhausted and undisciplined, Turkish truck drivers returning from Iraq said Tuesday.
Mosul, 60 miles south of the border with Turkey, is just outside an autonomous Kurdish-controlled region. The ethnically mixed city is expected to be a top target for U.S. troops if they strike Iraq from Turkey.
“There’s definitely been an increase in troops,” said Suleyman Ali, a 35-year-old trucker from southern Turkey. “There’s always been some military presence, but now there are many more cannons, tanks and anti-aircraft guns.”
Gazi Idis, a driver who left Mosul on Sunday, said tanks and artillery guns can be seen under camouflage netting near the main road leading to the city. He also said Iraqis have been building up forces for the past two months.
“They brought excavators to dig out deep circular bunkers in the soil and they moved their tanks into them,” Idis said.
Most of the cross-border truck traffic comes from crude oil deliveries, with Turkish drivers ferrying more than 80,000 barrels of Iraqi oil daily into Turkey under a special deal between the two countries.
Hasan Zirik, also a truck driver, said the Iraqis were using sandbags to set up foxholes on the sides of road.
Idis said the barrels of the guns were pointing north toward Turkey, where the United States is hoping to base thousands of troops for any possible attack against Iraq.
Idis said the Iraqi soldiers looked exhausted.
“They look to be in shambles. I don’t think they even can fire a single bullet at the Americans,” Idis said. “They look like refugees on the run more than soldiers.”
Idis said whenever he asked for water from Iraqi troops along the road, the soldiers complained they have neither food nor water themselves.
“They wear dirty, worn-out camouflage uniforms,” Idis said. “They don’t look like they have military discipline.”
Husnu Dagli, another driver, said Iraqi authorities were trying to restrict foreign information in the area.
“They banned us from bringing in our mobile phones more than a month ago,” Dagli said. “We’re also not allowed to take newspapers or magazines with us.”
Dagli said Iraqis keep asking him when a war would start.
The cross-border trade is not approved by the United Nations but has been mostly ignored given the billions of dollars in trade lost by Turkey following the 1991 Gulf War and the imposition of economic sanctions.