Heavy fighting near Basra: Reports about scores of Iraqi casualties; Iraqi resistance in Umm Qasr
U.S. Marine tanks battled Iraqi forces on the western outskirts of Basra on Saturday, a U.S. Marine captain said.
"We are attacking Iraqi forces, all of which are west of Basra," Captain Andrew Bergen told reporters in the Basra region. "I would certainly say it's a major battle."
"That's Marine artillery right there shooting," he said, as explosions thudded in the distance. Marine Cobra attack helicopters which were taking part in the battle could be seen circling overhead.
Bergen said the U.S. Marines were not attempting to take the city since they were aiming to avoid urban warfare. A British spokesman said U.S. forces were trying to negotiate a surrender of the city.
He was not aware if British forces were involved in the battle, but dozens of British armored vehicles could be seen advancing northwards along a road outside Basra. The convoy included tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery. According to unconfirmed reports, some 50 Iraqis killed in Basra area.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said in London that regular Iraqi forces have withdrawn from Basra but elements of Saddam Hussein's security forces are continuing to resist.
Meanwhile, U.S. Marines faced pockets of Iraqi resistance in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr on Saturday, a day after Washington said it had won control.
The Marines said American and British troops had taken between 400 and 450 Iraqi prisoners in fighting around the strategic port and the nearby Faw peninsula, which controls access from the Gulf.
"For the most part, whatever resistance was here, has pretty much either been eliminated or is on the run," Colonel Thomas Waldhauser, Commanding officer of the 15th Marine expeditionary unit, said in Umm Qasr.
But he added there was still a "little bit" of resistance around the old port. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Friday that U.S. and British forces had captured Umm Qasr.
Three Iraqis were killed in the overnight air raids on Baghdad, Iraqi Health Minister Umeed Midhat Mubarak said on Saturday.
"Three people were martyred in Baghdad last night and we are preparing for more deaths because the situation is developing rapidly," he told a news conference. Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf had earlier told reporters that 207 people were wounded in the fierce bombardment, making a total of 250 since raids started on Thursday.
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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