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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Chaos on Basra's streets
By Vanessa Allen
In Basra in southern Iraq

Sporadic fighting has continued in Basra as British troops seek to bring Iraq's second city under control.

But with large swathes of the city in British hands after Sunday's invasion, civilians crowded the streets.

There were scenes of chaos as looters set about ripping the city's buildings apart for scrap.

Young men bent double under the weight of their findings struggled to carry scrap metal, air-conditioning units and barrels of fuel from the city.

The bridges leading into Basra, once the scene of a refugee exodus, were packed with traffic and queues of up to 30 cars formed at petrol stations as signs of panic-buying set in.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the streets and few British soldiers ventured out of their Warriors and Challenger 2 tanks.

I feel very happy because Saddam Hussein has vanished, he's gone off, he's our nightmare
Former student

Iraqis waved and smiled as the troops poured in but did not stop in their business of looting.

Behind them fires still burned from the shelling of the city and buildings could be seen smouldering.

"People in Iraq are no good, we have suffered too long," one man told me, adding: "Be careful."

Moments later, the area was fired upon as the distinctive crack of machine gun fire could be heard.

Freedom welcomed

Another man, a former Iraqi soldier who refused to reveal his name, giving only his English nickname of William, defended the actions of the looters.

"Saddam Hussein deprived us of everything.

"This is the result of the deprivation of Saddam himself, that's what has caused this chaos, this mess," he said.

British troops welcomed in Basra
They were welcoming us openly for the first time. Giving us the universal sign of approval - the thumbs-up
Captain Roger Macmillan

The 23-year-old, a former English language student in the city, said: "I feel very happy because Saddam Hussein has vanished, he's gone off, he's our nightmare.

"There are some militia but the army will kill them.

"I used to be a soldier after I graduated from college, but when I first heard the President Bush address, from the first moment I heard it, I ran away from Saddam Hussein because I'm not going to die for him.

William explained he and his friends were going to try to take air-conditioning units from the college where he used to study, a building seen burning on the horizon and would sell the metal for scrap to buy food.

"We are living in a state of destitution, most of the Iraqi people are living in poverty.

"I wish we could fight together with the coalition troops but we don't have any guns.

"I think we will live a better life, whatever life we are given to live, it will be better than life under Saddam."

Three soldiers died

British troops and local people were buoyed by unconfirmed reports that the body of Iraq's southern commander Ali Hassan al-Majid - known as Chemical Ali - had been found.

He crushed the 1991 Basra rebellion, ordered a poison gas attack which killed thousands of Kurds in 1988 and brutally repressed Kuwait after the 1990 invasion.

British commanders have warned the battle for Basra is not over despite yesterday's gains.

Desert Rats and Royal Marines launched two waves of attacks, taking control of much of the city within hours, after two weeks poised on its outskirts.

But the price paid was the death of three British soldiers including the youngest Briton to have died in the conflict.

An MoD spokesman named him as Fusilier Kelan John Turrington, 18, a member of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

'Cheering on the streets'

Yesterday's operation was ordered after Major General Robin Brims, commander of British ground forces in Iraq, decided the situation had reached "tip point" - when organised resistance in the city was about to collapse.

Although they did come under attack from pockets of resistance - a US Marines Cobra was forced to land after being hit by gunfire - many people came on to the streets to welcome the troops.

Captain Roger Macmillan, 32, from Edinburgh, with the Scots Dragoon Guards, said: "The reaction of local people spurred us on.

"As soon as we hit the Fedayeen buildings they came out cheering on the streets and started pointing out the enemy.

"It seems to have vindicated our softly-softly approach and our decision not to rush headlong into Basra.

"People on the streets first appeared in a group of about 200 - then 200 more - until finally it was a flood.

"They were welcoming us openly for the first time. Giving us the universal sign of approval - the thumbs-up."

British commanders were said to be delighted with the progress made in Basra but remained reluctant to celebrate their triumph until securing the whole city.

Air Marshal Brian Burridge, the commander of UK forces in the Gulf, said Baath Party representatives in the town appeared to have fled or "melted into the background" rather than hand themselves over to UK troops.

  • This is pooled copy from Vanessa Allen, Press Association.

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