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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 March, 2003, 02:35 GMT
Reporters witness battle for Basra
Mortar attacks close to Basra
Fighting has been sporadic but fierce in places
Resistance and rebellion are the two key words in pooled despatches sent by journalists travelling with British forces close to the southern Iraq city of Basra.

The resistance comes from about 1,000 Iraqi soldiers battling British forces for the last two days in areas outside the city.

The rebellion comes from reports on Tuesday of Iraqi civilians in Basra starting a violent uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime.

"Patience is starting to wear thin on the front line," reports Simon Houston of the Daily Record, who is with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

The soldiers "are desperate to be allowed to take on Saddam's forces without the tight restrictions imposed on them", he says.

Civilian casualties

But for the time being British forces wait outside the city of Basra.

Military officials have decided to minimise civilian casualties and avoid collateral damage.

The Iraqis have been putting elite fighters in civilian clothes
Simon Houston, Daily Record
"But in doing so, they have become easy targets for guerrilla tactics," Houston goes on.

"The on-off battle has now been ongoing for almost 48 hours," says Daily Mirror journalist Tom Newton Dunn.

"It has been characterised by a series of fierce exchanges as each side is reluctant as yet to commit to a growingly inevitable full-scale assault."

The skirmishes have been described as a game of "cat and mouse" but the Iraqi troops are providing fierce resistance.

"Friendly fire"

It is in such skirmishes that British forces have suffered their first combat fatalities. Two men were killed in separate attacks in al-Zubayr, close to Basra.

THE BATTLE FOR BASRA

And two troops were killed in a 'friendly fire' incident when their vehicle was reportedly struck by a round from another British tank.

The men were with a battle group attempting to hold a bridge on the outskirts of Basra.

"The heavily armed brigade of regular Iraqi army soldiers and Baath party members have shown strong signs that they are prepared to stand and fight to the finish," Dunn adds.

There are also reports of human shields being used by Iraqi forces.

"The Iraqis have been putting elite fighters in civilian clothes, duping troops with fake surrenders and employing human shields," says Houston.

On Tuesday, British foces launched a dawn raid on a house in Al Zubayr to capture a Ba'ath party official.

Tank fire

"One Warrior armoured vehicle ploughed into the building, partially demolishing it, before troops jumped out and opened fire on those inside," says a despatch from Gethin Chamberlain of The Scotsman.

A large crowd, seeking to overthrow the paramilitary authorities in Basra, was seen on the streets
Martin Bentham, Sunday Telegraph
Later in the afternoon British forces started heavy tank fire at targets in the city and US jets dropped bombs on suspected Republican Guard positions.

"The bombs, dropped by American F-18 Super Hornets, were aimed at targets described by British Army officers as military sites hidden inside civilian buildings," reports Houston.

He adds: "From late afternoon yesterday the skies around Basra erupted with explosions as both the Iraqi Army and coalition forces began firing at will."

"It is understood the British were acting on reliable intelligence sources on the ground to provide them with targets."

Later, British military officials reported an uprising had started in the city.

"A large crowd, seeking to overthrow the paramilitary authorities in Basra, was seen on the streets by British intelligence sources," Martin Bentham of the Sunday Telegraph reports.

Iraqi forces attempted to quell the uprising by attacking their own people with mortar, according to British military sources.

Exchanged fire

"It is not known how many casualties were caused by the artillery fire, which British forces described as 'horrific'," says Bentham.

British desert rats fired back at the Iraqi troops and the two sides exchanged fire.

The day ended as it started with British forces still outside the city and no clear answer on when or if the soldiers would confront the Iraqi soldiers in the city.

"Tank commanders from the Black Watch Battle Group were urgently seeking permission to intervene" on Tuesday night, Bentham adds.

"Although action was temporarily delayed while the risks of causing further civilian casualties were assessed."

Reporters with the US and British military are restricted in what they can say about precise locations or military plans. Click here for more details.




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