British troops are battling irregular forces for control of the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Two British soldiers have died in combat in the region since Sunday. The commander of British forces in the Gulf, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, says his troops are encountering strong resistance from paramilitary militias loyal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Air Marshal Burridge told British radio his troops have not been able to take control of the southern city of Basra because highly motivated Iraqi militiamen in the area are putting up a strong fight. "These are bunches of determined men who will fight hard because they have no future in the new Iraq. It is they that we have to get at and we have always known we'd have to get at them. We did that last night in Az Zubayr," he said. "We went to their headquarters and engaged in contact with them. We killed a number of them and made it quite clear to them: "We, the British armed forces, are up for this and you are going to have a very hard time.""
Air Marshal Burridge also described what happened when Iraqi tanks came out of Basra to challenge the British forces. "A column of armor did try to come out of Basra last night. And 20 of them won't be going back, because they had the attention of our artillery. This is an irregular army," he said. "This is people who have operated above the law over an extended length of time. They are used to ruling the roost and they have no concept that actually these coalition forces that are about the place come with benign intentions for the rest of Iraq."
British forces are under pressure to secure Basra, which has more than a million people and which has had severe water supply disruptions since the U.S. and British invasion began on Thursday.
Air Marshal Burridge pointed out that the local population in Basra is reluctant to welcome the arrival of coalition forces, because they rose up during the 1991 Gulf war only to be crushed by Saddam Hussein's security apparatus.