Hoon previously said that Iraqi forces had set 30 oil fires, but corrected that number to seven later in the day.
British forces said they had met “stiff resistance” in the early hours of the ground war as they moved against the port town of Umm Qasr, close to the Kuwaiti border. British and U.S. troops reportedly have control of Umm Qasr and the Faw peninsula, a region dotted with oil wells and pipelines leading to ports on or near the Persian Gulf.
Some 250 Iraqis surrendered to U.S. Marines near Umm Qasr, according to news reports. U.S. Marines also reportedly overcame a mortar attack and took control of the main highway leading north to Basra.
During the battle to take control of oilfields in southern Iraq a U.S. Marine with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was killed in a gunfight with Iraqi units.
As the troops moved into the south, a visibly angry Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf and Iraqi Interior Minister Mahmoud Diyab al-Ahmed met with press in Baghdad to criticize the American and British leaders. During a bitter speech, Mahmoud Diyab al-Ahmed called President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair “villains” and leaders of a “gang of bastards.”
The two also dismissed reports that Iraqi soldiers had surrendered and said that Umm Qasr would not fall to coalition forces.
“I realized that they [U.S.] distributed a video tape that appeared to show their tanks advancing into Iraq and their troops appearing to take Iraqi prisoners. These are not Iraqi soldiers,” al-Sahaf said.
Ahmed said Umm Qasr is an “Iraqi port and is going to remain an Iraqi port.”
As forces continue to advance, U.S. officials are reportedly holding “back channel” discussions with Iraqi military leaders in hope that the Iraqi officials will agree to surrender to coalition troops.
“There are signs of continuing Iraqi desertions and disagreement and division in all levels of the regime,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday.
But he cautioned against assuming the war would end quickly.
“But I should warn that our forces will face resistance and that the campaign, necessarily, will not achieve all its objectives overnight,” he said.