DIBIS, Iraq – The Iraqi regime's hold over the north appeared to be crumbling Thursday as Kurdish and American forces pushed to the edge of oilfields at the major city of Kirkuk without resistance.
Signs of diminished Iraqi authority abounded. Kurds swept unopposed into the strategic city of Khaneqin, northeast of Baghdad on the Iranian border, and combined with U.S. special operations troops to rout Iraqi soldiers at Altun Kupri, 20 miles north of Kirkuk.
At Dibis, on a road running along the western edge of the Kirkuk oilfields, Kurdish forces and U.S. special operations troops moved into town without a fight.
The oil facilities were completely intact around town. The flames that burn atop the wells were still blazing, showing that shafts were still pumping in Iraq's no. 2 oil region.
In this mostly Arab town, people have attacked a tile mural of President Saddam Hussein, throwing mud at it, smashing it with rocks and pieces of cinderblock, and hitting it with their shoes -- a gross insult in Arab culture.
People entered the headquarters of Saddam's ruling Baath Party, looting and trashing it.
On the road leading to Dibis, groups of dozens, sometimes hundreds of Iraqi soldiers in uniform walked up the road without weapons, past clusters of U.S. special forces troops and a large force of Kurdish peshmerga militiamen.
Some of the Iraqi troops shouted "Hurray America and Britain!" as they walked; some waved at the peshmergas.
At Altun Kupri, the Kurdish and U.S. assault pushed Iraqi troops back to Kirkuk. Kurdish commander Feridoun Janrowey said some of his fighters were wounded and 10 to 15 Iraqis were taken prisoner in the battle.
At Khaneqin, hundreds of Kurdish troops moved through the city of about 100,000 people and were greeted by cheers. Residents said the city had been under an Iraqi 6 a.m. to 6 p.m curfew for several days.
Shortly after Iranian TV broadcast images Wednesday evening of Baghdad's fall, people emerged in the streets of Khaneqin and found the soldiers and members of the ruling Baath Party gone.
Mola Bakhtiyar, a leading official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said the Kurds took control of the oil-producing city, about 90 miles north of Baghdad, at midmorning without resistance.
Khaneqin lies south of the Kurdish autonomous region near the border with Iran. Kurdish fighters had been massing within striking distance of Khaneqin for days.
Control of Kirkuk is the long-held dream of the Kurds, who were harshly oppressed by President Saddam Hussein's regime and established an autonomous zone in northern Iraq in 1991. Kirkuk and commercial hub of Mosul, the third-largest city in Iraq, remained outside the zone, still in government hands.
Kurds consider both cities part of their historical ethnic territory but neighboring Turkey strongly objects to any Kurdish move on Kirkuk.
Kurds celebrated throughout the day on Wednesday as American forces moves into Baghdad and it became clear the regime had collapsed in the capital.