NEAR BASRA, Iraq April 6 —
Led by more than three dozen tanks and armored cars, British
forces battled toward the center of Basra on Sunday in their biggest
incursion yet into Iraq's second-largest city.
British officials said they had managed to set up base at a
former college inside Basra's city limits, but did not yet control
the city of 1.3 million. The Defense Ministry said three soldiers
were killed Sunday, bringing the total number of Britons killed
since the start of war to 30.
Group Capt. Al Lockwood, spokesman for British forces in the
Persian Gulf, said the advance was designed to "reassure the people
of Basra that we're there and we're coming to liberate the
"Their days are limited," Brigadier Graham Binns, commander of
the Desert Rats, told the Press Association. "Our intelligence tells
us that morale is low among the defenders of the city, that the
population can't wait to see us and the opposition, such as it is,
British and Iraqi forces have been locked in a battle for control
of the southern Iraq city since the war began. Until Sunday,
coalition forces had largely limited their efforts to raids and
sorties from the outskirts of town.
According to British press pool reports, commanders said the bulk
of Iraqi forces may have fled Basra a full 48 hours before the
"We can safely say that the conventional military force has
departed, although not completely from the region. We've still got a
little bit more of that to deal with further north," said Maj. Gen.
Peter Wall, the chief of staff of British forces at Central
Leading the British advance was the 7th Armored Brigade, the
"Desert Rats," which killed an unknown number of paramilitary
fighters and took others prisoner as the unit pushed in from the
west. They were joined by troops from the 3rd Armored coming up from
Lockwood said troops intended only to set up checkpoints inside
Basra. But they pressed on deep into the city with a column of more
than 40 armored personnel carriers and tanks after finding "the
level of resistance was low."
A day earlier, coalition aircraft bombed a compound in Basra
belonging to one of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's most notorious
associates Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is known as "Chemical Ali"
for ordering a poison gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in
1988. Lockwood said British troops will investigate the compound to
determine whether the general was killed.
"We suspect he probably was killed in that strike," Wall said. "A
large part of his entourage, including his body guards, have been
Lockwood told reporters the decision to move into Basra was based
partly on Arab press reports that Basra leaders wanted to surrender
the city. He also said reports of looting a sign of weakening Baath
Party control prompted the British to act.
Lockwood said it appeared local Baath leadership had
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards spokesman Capt. Roger MacMillan said
troops had also blown up a headquarters of the Fedayeen paramilitary
group. The fighters have become infamous for organizing such
battlefield ruses as posing as civilians and faking surrenders.
Another British officer, who requested anonymity, said Fedayeen
fighters were breaking into homes to hide and to use them as
The commander of Britain's forces in the gulf, Air Marshal Brian
Burridge, said troops had taken their time before entering Basra in
order to "shape the battle space" in the coalition's favor and
ensure minimum civilian casualties.
He said it was necessary to attack "without risking inordinately
the lives of the population knowing where the irregulars are,
knowing where the militia are and being in a position to deal with
them with as much precision as possible," he told British
Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Cars filled with families left Basra all day. In some cases, huge
trucks were seen leaving loaded with merchandize dozens of
mattresses, boxes of generators, televisions, refrigerators.
The road running north into Basra runs through Safwan and Zubayr,
smaller towns that appear abandoned. At Zubayr, hundreds of people
had set up a temporary encampment along a small, muddy river, where
they washed clothes and ate. Children roamed the area, begging for
|Britain's 2 Company Irish Guards
aim at targets as they continue to push against Saddam Hussein
loyalists in the city of Basra, Iraq, Sunday April 6, 2003.
(AP Photo/Daily Record/Tony
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