Britain's defense secretary says Iraqi militiamen loyal to President Saddam Hussein have been attacking civilians to put down an uprising in the southern city of Basra. British officials are confirming there has been an anti-government uprising in Basra and the British military is trying to support it.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon described the situation in Basra on British radio Wednesday. "Certainly, there have been disturbances, local people rising up against the regime. We know there have been attempts by regime militia to attack those same people, their own people," he says. "To attack them with mortars, machine gun fire, rifles and so on. We haven't witnessed it, but we know it is happening from various sources. Whether it is still happening remains unclear."
Mr. Hoon said British troops are trying to assist the citizens of Basra as they rebel against the militiamen who remain loyal to Saddam Hussein. "Allied forces, and British forces in particular, have been doing what they can to help those who would rise up against the regime. We've attacked the Ba'ath Party headquarters which I think has been substantially destroyed," says Mr. Hoon. "Certainly efforts have been made to reduce the numbers fighting against their own people. We are looking carefully at how best we can provide further assistance."
On another topic, Mr. Hoon said American and British bombing raids around Baghdad early Wednesday were aimed at military communications facilities, not the Iraqi television network.
Confusion arose as journalists in Baghdad reported that Iraqi television was knocked off the air during the attacks, but the station later resumed broadcasting.
There have been calls in Britain and the United States to bomb Iraqi television after it broadcast images of dead American soldiers and interviews with captured American prisoners of war.