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KHAZER, Iraq (AP) -- Kurdish forces seized a key bridge at Khazer near the major northern city of Mosul on Friday and crossed into the village under artillery fire from retreating Iraqi troops.
The Iraqis had struggled to hold Khazer since Thursday, after falling back six miles from their vast hilltop positions at Kalak on the main road between Kurdish-controlled Irbil and Iraqi-controlled Mosul, the third-largest city in Iraq. U.S. soldiers had been at Khazer on Thursday, apparently helping direct U.S. air strikes by F-14 Tomcats .
In the past week, Iraqi forces near the Kurdish zone have faced relentless air attacks and pulled back toward the two main northern districts in Baghdad hands: the commercial hub of Mosul and the important oil center around Kirkuk. Kurdish and U.S. forces were less than 18 miles from Mosul.
With fewer than 2,000 ground troops in the Western-protected Kurdish zone, the United States has relied on air strikes against the lead Iraqi units. The strategy has allowed Kurdish militiamen to advance unchallenged and keeps intact the U.S. pledge to Turkey to block any independent Kurdish offensive.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)