/ 26 March 2003

Bombing fails to knock out Iraqi TV

Iraqi state television was back on air this morning despite a heavy dawn bombing raid that targeted the country’s national station.

The state channel does not broadcast overnight and had been off the air at the time of the bombing. A Reuters correspondent today reported that the station began broadcasting verses from the Koran at around 0600 GMT as normal this morning, quashing US hopes that Saddam Hussein’s lines of communication with his people had been cut.

The US government has been outraged at Saddam’s use of state television to broadcast shocking pictures of US PoWs and soldiers killed in action. A successful strike on the TV station would have been a significant blow to the Iraqi regime, the US believed.

The raid on Baghdad did, however, appear to have taken out Iraq’s international satellite channel. Monitors in Dubai reported that the satellite has been off the air since the raids began early this morning. Amnesty International today warned that the TV station bombing could be in breach of the Geneva convention.

A new wave of explosions in southern Baghdad were reported at around 0800 GMT this morning, as US-led forces appeared to target Iraqi forces dug in to defend the capital. Visibility continues to be very poor in the city, with high winds, dust storms and plumes of smoke from burning oil pits.

UK forces wait at the gates of Basra

Amid reports of an uprising there, British forces in the southern city of Basra today said they had blown up the headquarters of the ruling Ba’ath party, in a precision bomb attack that left adjoining civilian structures intact.

A 2 000lb bomb, known as a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), smashed through the building and reduced it to rubble, according to GMTV reporter Richard Gaisford, who is embedded with British troops surrounding the city.

This morning reports of a popular uprising against the Ba’ath leadership in the city remained unconfirmed, although the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there had been an attempted uprising on some scale in Basra.

”Certainly there have been disturbances, local people rising up against the regime … we haven’t witnessed it but we know that that is happening from various sources,” he said.

This morning Al-Jazeera TV reported that all was quiet inside the city, with no apparent signs of an uprising, although British intelligence said that the Iraqis had fired upon their own people overnight.

”Big guns that normally shoot into the sky were turned horizontal and fired into the crowd — that’s what the intelligence reports were coming through,” reported Gaisford.

Last night, British forces at the gates of Basra battled with more than 1 000 Iraqi militia fighters, supporting what they said appeared to be civilian unrest developing in the city.

”There seemed to be an uprising in Basra last night,” a British military representative, Group Captain Al Lockwood, said today. ”We are assessing the situation very carefully to see how we can capitalise on it and how we can assist.”

Gp Capt Lockwood claimed Iraqi civilians started attacking fighters who were defending the city from British forces yesterday.

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards are outside the city waiting for the order to move in and invade, which they expect to come some time in the next 24 hours.

Coalition commanders were ”possibly” more optimistic about taking over Basra, but still had to defeat soldiers dressed as civilians and hiding out in civilian houses, he added.

Dawn raids on northern Iraq

Several large explosions were reported in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul this morning, according to Al-Jazeera. Its correspondent in Mosul said air raid sirens had rung out over the city, about 380 kilometres north of the capital, around dawn this morning.

At the same time, US planes also today targeted frontline Iraqi positions in the north of the country near the Kurdish-controlled town of Chamchamal, said a Reuters correspondent in the area.

Chamchamal is just over 30 kilometres east of the key northern city of Kirkuk, which lies in Iraqi controlled territory over the border to the northern no-fly zone. The major oil town has also been a target for US-led bombing raids in recent days.

Troops continue push for Baghdad

US marines continued to push north from the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya today, shelling suspected Iraqi positions as they did so.

After finally punching through fierce Iraqi resistance from Fedayeen militia units on the Euphrates river yesterday, the forces are laying down barrages of artillery as they move towards Baghdad. Officers said they were prepared for more heavy fighting along the way.

‘Bloodiest battle’ kills hundreds of Iraqi soldiers

Further north, US commanders said today that ”large numbers” of Iraqi forces had been killed during a major battle yesterday evening near the town of Najaf, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad. Iraqi reports of the death toll reaching 750 were this morning unconfirmed.

The US military said the fighting centred around a fierce two-hour battle in the middle of a severe sandstorm, beginning at around 1700 GMT last night. American tanks clashed with Iraqi fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades, after a dozen or more US tanks became stranded on the far side of a river when Iraqis blew up a bridge they had crossed and more tanks went in to help.

Commanders on the ground gave no information on casualties but said they expected the Iraqi death toll to be ”very high”.

Sky television quoted a senior US officer near Najaf who said the Iraqi death toll could be 650. If confirmed, the battle would be by far the bloodiest encounter in six days of fighting. In Washington, the Pentagon said 150 to 300 Iraqis might have been killed and two US tanks were destroyed.

”They did damage a couple of pieces of our gear but we’ve had no reports of casualties on our side,” a spokesman said.

British soldiers named

The two soldiers killed by fire from another British tank in southern Iraq were named today. The Ministry of Defence identified the two tank crew as Corporal Stephen Allbutt (35) a married father of two, and unmarried Trooper David Clarke, (19).

The men, both from central England, died on Monday night when their Challenger 2 tank fighting Iraqi forces west of Basra was mistakenly targeted by another British tank.

A total of 22 British servicemen are now listed as dead or missing in the Iraq war. Only two have been killed in action. British fatalities for the whole of the 1991 Gulf war totalled 24. – Guardian Unlimited Â