- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

KUWAIT CITY, March 25 (UPI) — A local uprising against Saddam Hussein's forces was under way Tuesday night in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, according to British Army intelligence officers attached to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, who said they had begun firing artillery to support the uprising.

As a storm-lashed rain swept across Kuwait and nearby Iraqi city of Basra, a drama was under way in Iraq's second largest city, they said, one that could have incalculable consequences for the course of the war. A successful local rising among the Shiite Muslims would be a stunning political setback for the Baghdad regime, and vindicate those in the U.S. and British governments who said many Iraqis would welcome their troops as liberators.

British troops said they were firing on pro-Saddam mortar positions in the city. They were trying to attack Iraqi mortars that had been turned on crowds that were apparently taking part in the anti-Saddam uprising.

The British sources also said they were in direct touch with members of the uprising, and had brought in close air support to attack the Baath Party headquarters in the city.

The Baath Party, whose members are predominately Sunni Muslim, the other main sect within the Islam faith, is the Iraqi nationalist and socialist political organization through which Saddam rose to power, and it remains the political backbone of his regime. Baathist officials have played a leading role in organizing the guerrilla-style resistance that U.S. and British troops have encountered in recent days.

"We can't tell at this stage how big this uprising might be, but it looks serious," a British officer told reporters embedded with the British 7th Armored Brigade, which had been battling pro-Saddam troops based in the city throughout the day.

The sky over Basra glared brightly as British guns pumped flares into the sky, and British intelligence teams monitored Iraqi radio communications in an effort to establish what was happening. Reports were still vague and the origin of the uprising was unknown.

The British have been facing regular Iraqi troops inside Basra, as well as the fedayeen irregulars who have been harassing the British with a guerilla war. Early Tuesday morning, an Iraqi armored unit of "about 50" tanks and armored personnel carriers came out of the city to attack British positions. They were beaten back by the British defenses, backed by close air support, which destroyed almost half the attacking vehicles.

Iraq's information minister Tuesday night denied that any uprising fighting was under way inside the city, and insisted that it remained loyal to the Baghdad regime. But Basra, a city of 1.3 million largely inhabited by Shiite Muslims, rose against Saddam in the wake of the first Gulf war before being brutally suppressed by the Iraqi Republican Guard.

British military engineers and Kuwait government employees were working round the clock Tuesday to lay an emergency pipeline to bring drinking water to the city. Basra was threatened with "a humanitarian disaster," according to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Royal Navy minesweepers, clearing the shipping channel to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, said late Tuesday they were "close to finished" and they expected to have the port open for humanitarian aid sometime Thursday. Two Australian grain ships and a Royal Navy support vessel carrying fresh water and food, were standing by to unload.

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