- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

CAMP AS SALIYA, Qatar Allied forces pounced on an Iraqi convoy as it left the urban cover of Basra and sought the surrender last night of Iraqi troops who survived the onslaught of coalition air power.
A column of about 100 Iraqi vehicles, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, headed out of Basra southeast toward the allied-held Faw Peninsula.
Allied commanders said captured Iraqi soldiers would provide vital information for efforts to take control of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.
The Iraqis apparently figured a blinding sandstorm would provide cover and keep helicopters and planes grounded.
But the move appeared to have failed, as allied aircraft and artillery attacked with satellite-guided weapons that were unaffected by poor visibility.
"It looks like suicide," one British officer said. "But it may be a sign of desperation at what's already going on inside Basra."
British forces surrounded Basra last night as they prepared for what could be the first large-scale urban assault in the week-old war.
British commanders, hoping to minimize civilian casualties, drew up plans for a highly unconventional campaign to capture the city, spearheaded by commando raids, sabotage of key security installations and divide-and-rule psychological warfare.
The raids are to be carried out by highly trained squads that rely on strategies and techniques developed during decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, British officers told The Washington Times.
What is occurring inside the city is difficult to fathom.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in Parliament yesterday before heading to Washington to meet President Bush, promised backing for a fledgling insurgency in the city of 1.3 million.
"Truthfully, the reports are confused, but we believe there was some limited form of uprising," Mr. Blair said. "It is important that we give support to those people in Iraq who are rising up to overthrow Saddam [Hussein] and his deeply repressive regime."
Iraq has denied there was an uprising in Basra.
British officers characterized the revolt late Tuesday as a small-scale set of disturbances.
Intelligence assessments suggested that angry citizens had gone on a house-to-house hunt, seeking revenge against officials in the ruling Ba'ath Party and paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam, who still control the city.
The Iraqis fired on demonstrators with mortars, and British forces were able to pinpoint the mortar fire and target it with their artillery.
British forces, however, decided not to send in troops to support the nascent revolt, considering it too small-scale. "Our people are in there, and we get reports from them," said the senior British spokesman, Group Capt. Al Lockwood.
"Other informants had managed to get out of the city and reach British lines and were telling the British where to find the city's ringleaders," Capt. Lockwood said.
"There is a feeling in Basra for change," he said. "But the people there are cowed, and are probably very wary about revolt when we failed to back them in 1991."
He added: "We need to prove to them that we're not going to leave them behind. We are there to liberate them, and we can do that."
The upcoming military operation will aim to isolate the militias, to find out where they operate from and then mount "a quick, clean, surgical operation that will take these people out," Capt. Lockwood said.
Another British officer, Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt, explained the objectives.
"It could be like a hornet's nest in there, so we need to shape the battle space," he said. "It's about a battle of minds as much as a firefight. We are not rushing into this. We must box clever."
He said the Ba'ath activists and their security forces had been using food and water as a channel of control, but the British forces would push to get food and water into the city within the next 24 hours.
Col. McCourt said the British had learned in confrontations with the Irish Republican Army and the Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina "a delicacy, a light-footedness, a quick-wittedness, and an ability to be adaptable and flexible."
Saddam has said in two recent television broadcasts that he intends to suck allied forces into a "quagmire" through close-contact street fighting.
American forces have moved north from the Basra area, leaving the British in charge.
One pointer to the new operation was the targeting on Tuesday night of the city's Ba'ath Party headquarters with a 2,000-pound bomb that scored a direct hit while leaving a nearby school and mosque unscathed, Col. McCourt said.
Outside the city, Desert Rat units from the 7th Armored Brigade were fighting rain and mud yesterday as well as roaming bands of dedicated Saddam loyalists as they maneuvered around the city.
Residents of Basra are largely Shi'ite Muslims long held down by Saddam's mainly Sunni regime.
Hard-line Iraqi troops, including irregular Fedayeen volunteer militia controlled by one of Saddam's sons, are understood to have been sent to the town to stiffen its defense and keep the population under control.
Washington encouraged Shi'ites in Basra to revolt against Saddam after the 1991 Gulf war but failed to back them with military support. Many were slaughtered in the ensuing crackdown.

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