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Growing Resentment at British 'Liberators' in Basra

March 31 2003, lndependent/UK
by Andrew Buncombe in Basra

Signs of resentment against British forces surrounding Basra are bubbling to the surface as Iraq's second city seethes under bombing and shell-fire.

Families continue to leave Basra in southern Iraq.
Families continue to leave Basra in southern Iraq. (AFP/POOL/Dan Chung)
"People see this as an occupation. If the government gives us weapons we will fight the Americans and the British," one local man at a British checkpoint said yesterday.

Contrary to American and British expectations, many of the 1.5 million populationare directing their resentment at the invading forces, rather than the regime of Saddam Hussein. "They came here and they bombed innocent families," one man said.

"The Americans and British fired their weapons at our electricity pylons. They cut off fresh water supplies from near the airport," another man said. "Why?"

"The government brought back the electricity two days ago. It is turned off a few hours a day but the service is back."

One young man repeated reports of an uprising against Saddam Hussein in the city several days ago. He said that up to 15 people had been killed, though this could not be confirmed. "The forces of the Iraqi regime seem to be losing day by day but they are still in the city," he added. "Nobody can say Saddam is bad."

His comments showed that fear of the regime remains strong.

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

It's ugly now and it promises to get uglier

March 31 2003,
by Paul McGeough

The Iraqi resort to suicide bombing is hardly surprising. But the shocked response from US commanders is another sign of their lack of preparedness for war in this region.

The swagger is gone from the "shock and awe" campaign. Instead of being welcomed by flag-waving, cheering Iraqis, the allies are confronted by the lethal hazards of asymmetrical war - brazen Iraqi units and individuals who can nip through gaps in the most technologically superior force sent into battle.

It does not mean that the US-led forces will lose the war. But it does mean that the ground rules have changed dramatically, handicapping Washington and, to use Saddam's words, increasing the blood-price that the US will pay for victory.

The Iraqi resistance is as much a measure of Saddam's fear-driven control of his military and civilian populations as it is of the doubt that many ordinary Iraqis harbour about American intentions.

It's ugly now and it promises to get uglier. The media here in Baghdad and elsewhere are filled with images of civilian grief and damage now spreading beyond what were described as "regime targets".

In the early hours of Saturday several Baghdad telephone exchanges were bombed, further isolating civilian Iraqis by denying them local calls in a time of great stress.

As Saturday's suicide bombing took place, Information Ministry officials in Baghdad were handing out video cassettes of the most appalling images of death and destruction, which they blamed on the Americans, on the road between Najaf and Baghdad.

The footage showed several buses and cars that had been incinerated and were riddled with machine-gun fire. There were long, lingering shots of the charred remains of passengers.

When the images are telecast, particularly in the Arab world, US claims that Iraqi fighters have been using public transport to get through American lines will count for little.

The US came here apparently in the belief that chemical or biological attacks were the only unconventional attacks they might face. But Iraqi militiamen dressed as civilians mount hit-and-run attacks and then melt into local crowds; they scoot around with ease on public transport, springing ambushes; they hide their big guns in civilian quarters. But the most remarkable aspect of it all is the shocked surprise of US commanders in the field and at the Pentagon.

Iraqi rhetoric is threat-laden and blood-soaked at the best of times, but the timing of the Najaf suicide bomb and Vice-President Taha Yassir Ramadan's self-congratulatory press conference in Baghdad on Saturday night has to be taken as an unambiguous warning of worse to come.

He said: "Our martyrdom operations are suicide to you. But if we do not have the airplanes and bombs to respond, what do we do - capitulate?"

That's not how the war was sold to the US public.

The Iraqis tried to head off this war with a pitch for world moral support against Washington, declaring that it was not a rogue state and did not have weapons of mass destruction.

Time will tell. But this is the regime that eulogises the suicide bombers of the West Bank and Gaza, paying $US25,000 ($A41,600) to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

And there were echoes of all the Palestinian justification for their methods of war against the Israelis when Mr Ramadan said: "Any method that stops or kills the enemy will be used."

Observers have been watching and waiting, confused by an apparent lack of war planning across Iraq. But with the war now in its second week the explanation is clear - this is shaping as a guerilla war, like we saw in Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Somalia.

Already most US casualties have been in guerilla strikes in and around Nasiriya.

At Najaf, Captain Andrew Valles, the US First Brigade's civil and military affairs officer, said: "I don't know what motivated this guy to kill himself. To me, this is not an act of war, it is terrorism." But in Baghdad it was just war.

© 2003 The Age Company Ltd


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