British troops withdraw from Basra
By afp and Martin Bentham in BASRA
Fierce resistance has forced British troops to withdraw from Basra to regroup, British military officials said this afternoon, as the Red Cross warned of a potential humanitarian crisis in the city.Elements of Britain's Seventh Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, withdrew from the southern Iraqi city - the nation's second largest. They had come under attack, as they blocked the main routes into the city from the north and south, from mortar fire and from guerrillas disguised in civilian clothes.Military officials also said that irregular forces pretended to surrender and used women and children as decoys.British commanders said this evening that they were considering calling in Royal Marine Commandos and the 16th Air Assault Brigade, the parachute regiment. Both forces specialise in urban warfare and peacekeeping and are considered far better suited to street combat than the Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior armoured personnel carriers of the Desert Rats."It looks like being a lot tougher than we thought. We are now looking at using the Queens and the paras. Basra is a divisional operation now, not just 7th Armoured Brigade," said one officer. Some of the strongest resistance today came from the Fedayin militia and security services armed with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns.Members of the Fedayin, a militia controlled by Saddam's son Uday, have taken to disguising themselves in civilian clothes, mixing with families and then emerging from crowds to fire on the coalition forces, military officials said.They said they were also concerned that the Iraqis might use a captured British vehicle as a car bomb.The Desert Rats had at one point surrounded the city and Tony Blair told the House of Commons today that Basra had been "made secure". But military officials later admitted that they had vastly underestimated the strength of Iraqi resistance and the loyalty of Basra's population to Saddam."We're currently taking stock of the situation. We were expecting a lot of hands up from Iraqi soldiers and for the humanitarian operation in Basra to begin fairly quickly behind us, with aid organisations providing food and water to the locals," Captain Patrick Trueman said. "But it hasn't quite worked out that way."There are significant elements in Basra who are hugely loyal to the regime. Their loyalty is rewarded with a better standard of living than most, so they don't want to give it up easily." British artillery shells were later fired into the city, where 1,000 Iraqi fighters are believed to be sheltering, some using civilian buildings as bases.Serious pockets of resistance were also uncovered in al Zubayr, a town about 15 miles west of Basra. Meanwhile the International Committee of the Red Cross said that Basra's population of around 2 million was facing a potential humanitarian crisis.The main water treatment plant on the northern edge of Basra, scene of fierce fighting, has been out of action since Friday due to a power cut. "If we do not manage to re-establish the water system in Basra very rapidly to a sufficient level, we will have a major humanitarian crisis," Balthasar Staehelin, ICRC Director General of the Middle East and North Africa told a news conference.Although other plants were able to supply 40 per cent of usual needs, the quality of the water was poor, the ICRC said. Daytime temperatures in Basra can reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General called for urgent measures to help restore water and electricity."A city of that size cannot afford to go without electricity or water for long. Apart from the water aspect, you can imagine what it does for sanitation," he said. Al-Jazeera television reported bombing in Basra today, showing columns of smoke rising from the city.
Bush said there would be massive aid pouring in within 36 hours, that was 24 hours ago. There is little chance of there being any great change in the status quo in the next 12 hours. Basra was supposed to be 'liberated' but it doesn't appear to want it. It now harbours militia groups which make controlling the city impossible. It would take months to clear the streets of Basra. We've seen what happens in Northern Ireland, Palestine in that its virtually impossible to clear militants from an area.
So whats the next move? Provide water and food? Feed your enemies or let the innocent suffer?