Anti-Saddam Revolt Reported in Basra
Anti-Saddam Revolt Reported in Basra
In what appears to be a critical moment for coalition forces, thousands of Shiites in Basra have started a popular uprising against Saddam Hussein's forces, a Sky News correspondent and a United Kingdom pool correspondent reported Tuesday.
Iraqi Fedayeen are reportedly firing at the Shiite protesters, who have the support of British troops in the area. Coalition forces, in turn, are reportedly firing missiles at the pro-Saddam forces.
Britain's ITN news network is reporting that thousands of people are rampaging through the city streets. Dozens of buildings are reportedly on fire as the predominantly Shiite population is in revolt against Saddam's minority Sunni rulers.
"We've had reports we can't substantiate as of yet of an uprising in Basra. We are closely monitoring the situation," said U.S. Marine Maj. David C. Andersen.
A British spokesman said a top Baath Party official has been captured outside the southern Iraqi city.
Coalition forces want the people of Basra to attack soldiers loyal to Saddam, and British troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles are massing on the outskirts of Basra and planning to enter the city.
"We'll help them every which way we can," British spokesman Chris Vernon told a news conference in Kuwait. "We are helping them when we took out probably the most senior Baath party guy in Basra this morning. That will have sent a shock wave through them."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saddam's supporters are terrorizing his people in Basra, but he skirted a question as to whether an uprising was in fact occurring.
"They now have people in there that are shooting them if they try to desert, try to surrender, try to escape," he said at a news briefing. "These are Saddam Hussein's people in there, shooting them if they leave the city."
Anyone staging uprising has "a lot of courage," Rumsfeld said.
Meanwhile, sandstorms slowed coalition forces to a crawl and thwarted air missions as U.S.-led forces edged within 50 miles of Baghdad.
"It's a little bit ugly out there today," with wind, sandstorms and rain, Air Force Major Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. said in a press briefing at U.S. Central Command in Qatar. "However, that hasn't stopped us."
The invasion of Baghdad, he said, is still on track.
President Bush, speaking to military personnel at the Pentagon, said: "We cannot know the duration of this war, yet we know its outcome. We will prevail."
"The Iraq regime will be disarmed. The Iraq regime will be ended. The Iraq people will be free and our world will be more secure and peaceful," Bush said.
Rumsfeld said coalition forces are performing "superbly" and that Iraqi resistance "has not affected coalition progress."
"The Iraqi regime is losing control of more of the country," Rumsfeld said during a news briefing at the Pentagon. The coalition "will not stop until that regime is driven from power ... their fate is certain. All that's unclear is whether it will take days or weeks."
"Iraqi authorities know their days are numbered."
Renuart said about 1,400 air sorties were expected to focus on Republican Guard units blocking the path to Baghdad on Tuesday. He added that coalition troops destroyed six GPS jammers -- used to throw U.S. aircraft and bombs off course electronically -- over the past two nights.
U.S. officials say Russian companies helped supply Iraq with these jammers.
Coalition paratroopers have seized an Iraqi desert air strip, and Iraqi troops continue to place mines in northern Iraq.
The overall mission of Navy air power was changing to focus more on support for U.S. ground troops advancing on Baghdad, said Capt. Patrick Driscoll aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
Combat missions from two aircraft carriers were called back because of bad weather, and at least a dozen planes returned without reaching Iraq. Two Army divisions were virtually stalled in a sandstorm.
Thousands of Marines took back roads toward Baghdad to avoid civilians, but traveled only about 20 miles in five hours.
Still, the Army's 3rd Infantry Division advanced to within 50 miles of Baghdad early Tuesday and pounded military installations.
U.S. air power, helicopters and artillery to "beat down those Republican Guard positions" before ground troops move ahead in the battle for Baghdad, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
"We've never said it's going to be quick, we've never said it's going to be easy, you've never heard those words come out of officials here at the Pentagon," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "War is tough and it's going to be a tough fight. But it's a worthy fight."
But there is growing worry at the Pentagon that Iraqi Republican Guard units will start using chemical weapons as coalition land forces approach Baghdad.
U.S. officials cited intelligence reports that Iraqi units may have been ordered to unleash chemical weapons, but they cautioned that reports of specific geographic tripwires, or "red lines" drawn up by Iraqi leadership, are premature.
The Iraqi Republican Guard controls the bulk of Iraq's chemical weaponry, most of which can be fired from artillery guns or short-range rocket launchers.
"I have no doubt that he would do such a thing," Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News on Monday. "We will follow this matter carefully."
Central Command said Tuesday that a U.S. F-16 fighter engaged a U.S. Patriot missile battery during combat air operations approximately 30 miles south of An-Najaf in Iraq on Monday. No soldiers were injured or killed. The incident is under review.
People in Baghdad dug more and bigger defensive trenches around the city, including the courtyard of the Iraq museum, home to priceless antiquities. Many more stores were open for business, and people were milling about.
About 500 Iraqi fighters have been killed in the last two days by the 3rd Infantry Division.
Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Preston of V Corps said Tuesday that coalition forces ran into "a lot" of Iraqi tanks and anti-aircraft weaponry and "thousands and thousands" of weapons around the city of Najaf.
"This could have been very ugly, but they're not very motivated," Preston said of the Iraqi army recruits. "I think a lot of them wanted to go home."
Allied ground troops crossed over the Euphrates River early Tuesday, advancing north past Nasiriyah after fierce resistance there.
A pattern of deadly ambushes and ruse attacks by Iraqi militiamen in civilian clothes prevented coalition forces from securing the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriyah. Sporadic fighting thwarted efforts to extinguish burning oil fields.
British Air Marshal Brian Burridge said a Baath party headquarters in Az Zubayr was targeted late Monday by the First Battalion Black Watch, whose members are mostly from Scotland. At least one Baath party official was captured and 20 were killed. Two British soldiers were killed.
The Pentagon confirmed that 12 American GIs had been killed so far, and seven were being held as prisoners of war.
"I think the deaths of Americans gives us more incentive to fight," said Lance Cpl. Chad Borgmann, 23, of Sidney, Neb., with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force. "Freeing Iraq is all fine and dandy ... but this gives us a personal motivation to fight."
Fox News' Kelly Wright, David Lee Miller and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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