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Last Updated:  Sunday, 6 April, 2003, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Little sign of opposition in Basra
By Juliet Bremner
With British forces in Basra

I'm at the main power station that feeds the entire city of Basra. It was given to the First Fusiliers to come here and secure it, make sure it would continue working.

There are plumes of smoke coming out of it at the moment which suggests that it is still functioning. There was a great fear of sabotage on installations such as this and the waterworks.

A civilian greets British troops as they enter Basra
So the troops have been given the task of making sure some power gets to the city as they try to bring some kind of normality to this place.

As we came in today, there was very little opposition - really none that we saw.

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.

We saw people waving white flags and making friendly gestures... I think the people here have been waiting for this
We saw bunkers they had dug out with sandbags on top. We also found some missiles in one of the university buildings.

And there were mines that had been laid along the edge of the road. All things to try to catch out the British soldiers as they came here.

But absolutely no sign of the Iraqi troops that might have fired on them directly.

Secret intelligence

We haven't encountered many people - I think the sight of Challenger tanks and Warrior fighting vehicles heading towards you normally persuades people to keep their heads down.

But those that we did see around housing estates were waving white flags and making friendly gestures, so it does seem that the ordinary citizens here are pleased to see the British forces arriving.

Families fly the white flag as they flee the city
I can see, off to my left, one of the main bridges that crosses the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway that runs through Basra.

There have been people coming backwards and forwards across there for the past few hours that we've been here, apparently completely unconcerned.

There are a couple of Challenger tanks parked at the top of the bridge just to make sure that nothing happens to them, but the local population seem at ease that the British troops are here.

I've just seen a few men walk past, waving white flags and making thumbs up gestures - apparently very welcoming.

As a whole I think the people here have been waiting for this.

Troops detonated anti-tank mines planted by Iraqis
That is what the British have been hearing on the ground.

They have had groups of secret intelligence people in here for a couple of weeks now and they have been hearing that the general civilian population were very keen for the British to move in.

The troops have targeted the Baath party officials and the militia who have been holding sway here, partly to persuade the people that they are on their side.

They will remove these bullies who have been making their lives a misery.

Narrow city streets

Today there have been very little sign of pockets of resistance.

But it's early days yet and as we move further into the city, especially the old southern part of the city where you have a lot of very tight narrow streets and a warren of houses then you may find that the troops have tried to melt into the civilian population.

But whether they'll be brave enough to take on such a large force of between 7-8,000 British soldiers is another matter entirely.

If they feel the people of Basra are with the British there's a very strong likelihood the militia won't fight. And I think the initial signs are good that civilian casualties will be very limited.


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