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Basra: Iraqis Turn on Saddam's Supporters

Basra: Iraqis Turn on Saddam's Supporters

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BASRA, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi civilians turned on those loyal to President Saddam Hussein in Basra, attacking militiamen and looting a state bank as British troops moved to take control of the nation's second-largest city Monday.

Sporadic fighting persisted as British forces tried to clear Basra of pro-Saddam militiamen and Saddam's Fedayeen fighters.

"Operations are ongoing around the remnants of the Baathist paramilitaries. So UK forces and the civilian population do still remain at risk," Air Marshal Brian Burridge said at a briefing in Qatar.

The 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment took up foot patrol in the city center after a massive convoy of British infantry started rolling into Basra from the southern outskirts early Monday.

British troops appeared to be working to secure the old section of the city, the last substantial pocket of resistance.

"It's a bit of a maze in there and we can't get in with tanks or armored vehicles so we're going in on foot," a British military official told the Press Association.

The success of the troops saw a brutal response from some civilians. Several militiamen were seen being killed by throngs of civilians, Press Association said. A British soldier was also told that civilians had killed a policeman who worked on their street corner, according to British press pool reports.

British forces moved into the city of 1.3 million on Sunday after two weeks on the outskirts.

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards pushed into the city in Challenger 2 tanks and the Black Watch invaded in armored vehicles, while the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers pushed in from the southwest, and Royal Marine commandos came in from the south, according to Press Association.

The original objective was to take the outskirts but resistance was found to be light, so the British forces moved into the city, and set up a base at a former college inside the city limits.

The 7th Armored Brigade, or the Desert Rats, killed an unknown number of paramilitary fighters and took others prisoner as the unit pushed in from the west. Commanders said the bulk of Iraqi forces may have fled Basra 48 hours before the latest incursion, according to British pool reports.

The Defense Ministry said three British soldiers were killed Sunday.

Hundreds of people poured out to welcome and shake hands with the soldiers. Women in chadors hovered in the background, as soldiers talked and joked with civilians and let some boys look through their gunsights.

A jubilant crowd of about 100 Iraqis surrounded two British tanks near a Saddam mural and cheered the soldiers inside, giving one soldier a small bunch of yellow flowers.

"It's brilliant, brilliant!" the soldiers could be heard saying.

Gunfire could be heard in the city center. Soldiers consider their biggest threat to be militia fighters still roaming Basra.

"We've had little contact, but it's still our big concern. Our problem now is also looting. But unless someone is a direct threat, we don't engage. We don't have the resources to deal with the problem right now," said Capt. Mike Taylor of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.

Basra residents were seen streaming out of the Central Bank of Iraq with their arms full of looted items -- chairs, tables, carpets and other items -- and loading them onto horse-drawn carts or stuffing the goods into cars.

At the Sheraton Hotel, people loaded up carts, junked vehicles and any other transport they could find with chairs, sofas -- even the grand piano that had been in the hotel lobby, which residents pushed down the street. Smoke rose from the hotel after it was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. British soldiers ordered people to leave the hotel and blocked the entrance.

The humanitarian situation remained bleak, with many residents desperate for fresh water.

"All the citizens are very thirsty," said a man who would only identify himself as Ali. He was holding his year-old daughter.

"I feel very afraid for her, and for my friend's baby," he said. "I've been without water for three days."

Ali Hassan al-Majid, one of the most brutal members of Saddam's inner circle, was believed to have been killed in a Saturday airstrike on his house in Basra, British officials said. He had been dubbed "Chemical Ali" by opponents for ordering a 1988 poison gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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