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Last Updated:  Sunday, 6 April, 2003, 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK
'Large parts' of Basra under UK control
British Challenger tank in Basra
British Challenger 2 tank and regular Basra traffic on Sunday
British forces can move freely through 'the majority' of Iraq's second city Basra after a major assault by thousands of troops, military commanders have said.

By Sunday evening, most of the city, with the exception of the old town, was understood to be in British hands - although sporadic fighting was ongoing.

Major General Peter Wall told the BBC there was still some "small pockets" of resistance, and "renegade elements" could well stage counter-attacks throughout Sunday night.

BBC correspondent Nicholas Witchell, at coalition headquarters in Qatar, said officials believed the operation was a great success.

They told him Basra had "tipped" past the critical point and they were "nearly" in control.

"They feel they can finish off the job in the next few days," he said.

Three British soldiers died during the battle for Basra, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.

Among them was Fusilier Kelan John Turrington, 18, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The other two have not yet been named.

The BBC's Ben Brown, with the troops, said the number of Iraqi dead probably ran into the hundreds. Hundreds of prisoners were also taken.

In other military developments:

  • The US says it has secured most of the major routes into Baghdad, but may still face fierce fighting ahead

  • A fierce battle was waged in the western outskirts of Baghdad, said the BBC's Gavin Hewitt who is travelling with US forces. He saw more than a dozen burned-out Iraqi military vehicles, and said at least 15 civilian vehicles also got caught up in the fighting

  • The BBC's Rageh Omaar in central Baghdad reported a full day of artillery and mortar fire as US troops continued their assault on the city

  • The first US aircraft - a C-130 cargo and transport plane - has landed at Baghdad airport, a US military spokesman said. No other details were given

  • A convoy of Kurdish and American forces in northern Iraq was bombed by US aircraft in another "friendly fire" incident; at least 15 were killed and about 45 injured. The BBC's John Simpson, at the scene, suffered minor injuries

  • About 700 Iraqi opposition fighters - under the control of the Iraqi National Congress and its leader Ahmed Chalabi - have been airlifted into southern Iraq to join coalition troops, Mr Chalabi said in a statement.

  • US forces have secured the strategically important holy Shia city of Karbala after two days of intense fighting that killed about 400 Iraqi paramilitaries, a military spokesman said

The massive raid by British forces, designed to deliver the "liberation of Basra", started at first light.

Colonel Hugh Blackman of the Scots Dragoons
Colonel Hugh Blackman of the Scots Dragoons greets a local boy
Acting on information that the "time was right", the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, stormed the city with several thousand troops and hundreds of tanks.

Three units, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Royal Fusiliers and the Black Watch, advanced into the city.

Soldiers reported only "pockets" of resistance, and being welcomed by civilians waving, cheering and sounding the horns of their cars.

'Liberation'

British targets in Basra included the city's university and its naval academy, in which a patrol discovered a stash of Exocet missiles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and dozens of surface-to-air missiles.

They pushed on and by late afternoon, they had attacked and destroyed the Baath party headquarters in the centre of the city.

STORMING OF BASRA
Basra

Meanwhile, in the south west of the city, Royal Marine Commandos from 3 Commando brigade, with support from 59 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers, spearheaded a second wave of attacks.

Using heavy shelling as cover, they moved from the south towards the old part of Basra.

"This is the liberation of Basra we've been planning for," British forces spokesman Group Captain Al Lockwood told BBC News Online.

While the fighting raged, looters ransacked the city. There were also reports of lynch mobs killing several militiamen.

Basra's Baath party leadership appeared to have been eliminated or fled, Group Capt Lockwood said.

The resistance encountered had been "generally disorganised, with no real command and control".

UK forces had spent about two weeks before the assault attacking targets believed to be linked to the Baath party regime.

Marines of 40 Commando in Basra
Marines of 40 Commando advance into the city

On Saturday they attacked a building in which the Iraqi commander, known as "Chemical Ali", was thought to be.

A US Central Command official confirmed one of Ali Hassan al-Majid's bodyguards died in the air strike.

In other developments:

  • A Russian diplomatic convoy evacuating staff from Baghdad to Syria was caught in crossfire, with several people reportedly injured

  • The Iraqi authorities have imposed a night-time curfew around Baghdad to stop people fleeing the city in vehicles

  • US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz said it would take more than six months for an Iraqi government to be created to run the country after the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime

  • An Iranian general said hundreds of bodies discovered in a makeshift morgue by British forces near Basra were those of Iranian soldiers killed in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war

  • Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the grand imam of Egypt's al-Azhar Mosque - seen as the highest spiritual authority for Sunni Muslims - said Saddam Hussein was wrong not to go into exile to avert the US-led war.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Ben Brown
"The Iraqi death toll here may run into hundreds"


The BBC's Nicholas Witchell
"Three British soldiers have been killed in this operation"



SEE ALSO:
Military briefings: Key points
06 Apr 03  |  Middle East


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