British Officials Report Signs of Uprising in Basra
Blair told parliament, ”In relation to what has happened in Basra overnight, truthfully reports are confused, but we believe there was some limited form of uprising.”
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the BBC Wednesday that while the situation inside Basra remained “unclear,” he was certain that “there have been disturbances with local people rising up against the regime.”
“We know that there have been attempts by regime militia to attack those people, their own people, to attack them with mortars, machine gun fire, rifles and so on,” Hoon reported.
Hoon said British forces stationed around Basra, a Shi’ite Muslim city with a history of opposition to the Sunni-dominated Iraqi government, had not witnessed the uprising at first hand but had learned of it through “various sources.”
Hoon’s comments contradicted reports from Arab-based media organizations who have found no evidence of an uprising. The defense secretary’s statements also went further than those of British officers whose forces are the city as part of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
A British military spokesman at Central Command in Qatar said on Wednesday the situation in Basra was “not quite clear.”
“We’ve had a number of different reports suggesting there has been some civil disturbance, but we are waiting for a clearer picture to emerge before we can be certain of what is actually going on there,” the spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt, said.
“What I can say is that the artillery forces of the 7th Army Brigade, the Desert Rats, did engage enemy mortars who apparently were firing on the civil population,” McCourt said.
“What’s the overall effect of the artillery unit we don’t know. We do know the mortars stopped firing,” he continued.
During a U.S. military briefing in Qatar Wednesday, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said that the situation is Basra was “confusing,” but that there had been fighting within the city between Iraqis — some of whom were in uniform and others who were not. He also emphasized that the people of Basra wanted to be rid of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Correspondents in Basra for Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television and for Abu Dhabi Television reported on Wednesday they had seen no signs of unrest.
Al-Jazeera reporter Mohammed al-Abdallah said: “The streets of Basra are very calm and there are no indications of violence or riots. There are no signs of the reported uprising.”
Reports of unrest first came from British reporters near the city, but these were denied by Iraq’s information minister.
Saying they fear civilian casualties, British commanders have said they have no immediate plans to enter Basra although they would pick off Iraqi military targets in the city as opportunities arose.
McCourt said Wednesday “We’re not rushing in on [Basra] because we need to ascertain more precisely the conditions around the town.”
A television journalist with Britain’s ITN reported from just outside Basra on Tuesday that British forces had bombed the ruling Ba’ath Party headquarters in the city, totally destroying it.
The people of Basra rose up against President Saddam Hussein’s government after the 1991 Gulf War, but their revolt was crushed after U.S.-led forces failed to intervene.