British Forces Take Parts of Basra
Group Captain Al Lockwood, spokesman for British forces in the Persian Gulf, told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar that coordinated waves of attack had allowed British troops to establish a sustained military presence within the city after two weeks on its outskirts.
“We’re on the edge of Basra old city now,” Lockwood told Reuters. “We’re in there with tanks, we’re staying and we’re not just going in and coming out again.”
According to a Reuters report, British tanks and armored vehicles rumbled into the city during the day Sunday while troops, supported by U.S. Cobra helicopter gunships, searched buildings for Iraqi fighters.
Three British soldiers were killed during the operation, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said. BBC correspondent Ben Brown, traveling with the troops, said the number of Iraqi casualties probably ran into the hundreds. Troops also took hundreds of prisoners, Brown reported.
Although his troops had claimed successes in Basra, British Major General Peter Wall told Reuters he didn’t consider the Iraqi opposition in the city of 1.5 million people defeated yet.
“It’s been a very good day, but I would just caution against excessive optimism,” he said. “A relatively small number of determined people in a large city can still give us difficulty.”
However, Brigadier Graham Binns, commander of the British 7th Armored Brigade “Desert Rats” who led the advance, the “days are limited” for members of the Iraqi resistance.
“Our intelligence tells us that morale is low among defenders of the city, that the population can’t wait to see us and the opposition, such as it is, is uncoordinated,” he said.
BBC reporter Juliet Bremmer, traveling with British forces in Basra, said she saw “very little opposition” from Iraqi fighters as she moved in the city.
“What we did see were positions that had been left by the Iraqi troops or militia who had obviously been fighting some kind of counter-offensive during the last two weeks that we have been based on the outskirts.
They had fled from those positions,” she wrote.
British troops had previously limited their engagements in Basra to air strikes and targeted battles launched from outside the city against resistance believed to come from members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party.
Lockwood said it appeared the party’s organization in the city had collapsed, the Associated Press reports.
The strike came a day after coalition forces targeted and bombed the home of Ali Hassan al-Majid, a top Iraqi general known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of poison gas against Iranians and Iraqi Kurds in 1988.
Coalition officials said they did not know whether Al-Majid, reportedly a close confidant of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, had been killed in the attack, but said his personal bodyguard was found dead in the rubble.