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British Troops Enter Southern City of Basra

BY Admin  April 7, 2003 at 1:46 PM EDT

Coalition troops, backed by several tanks and four Cobra helicopters overhead, entered the southern city of Basra unopposed for the first time since the Iraq war began nearly three weeks ago.

Hundreds of Basra residents emerged from their homes, some greeting the armed troops advancing towards the city’s square, wire services reported on Monday. Some civilians shouted, “Welcome, welcome, very good!” to the troops, shaking their hands and giving the thumbs-up sign.

Other residents begged the soldiers for water since the city’s supply had been cut off for more than 19 days.

In London, British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon on Monday said the British-led forces had achieved a “tremendous amount” in Basra and were “there to stay.”

Air Marshal Brian Burridge cautioned that British forces would likely encounter some resistance from the remaining “hard core” of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s loyalists holed up within the city.

“The 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment are in the process now of sweeping the old town in Basra which is a myriad of narrow streets and winding alleys and this has to be done on foot,” Burridge told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.

Soldiers on the ground in Basra expressed confidence that most of the Iraqi fighters had been wiped out by raids over the weekend, the Associated Press reported Monday.

“This (reception) is more than we could have hoped for. We took part in the raid yesterday and today it’s a completely different city,” Major Chris Brannigan of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, British troops in Basra also worked to contain looting by Iraqi civilians, who were seen hauling furniture, carpets and other items out of the local bank, hotel, and other buildings vacated by Saddam’s loyalists, wire services reported.

Burridge said the looting was practically “an inevitability.”

“There is a release of pent up annoyance and hatred against the Ba’ath Party and the Baath regime but once that safety valve is blown … the business of protecting property becomes easier,” he said.