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Civilian Uprising Reported in Basra - 2003-03-26

Coalition officials say Iraqi civilians appear to have risen up against Iraqi troops in the southern city of Basra. The development comes amid reports of a major battle near the central Iraqi city of Najaf in which hundreds of Iraqi troops have reportedly been killed.

A spokesman for the British forces, Major Will McKinlay, Wednesday said British forces outside Basra witnessed Iraqi troops firing mortars on civilian residents of the city.

"We believe there has been an uprising, but we haven't got any detailed intelligence that tells us that it is for certain an uprising," he said. " Now, what we have been able to establish is that Iraqi troops fired mortars on their own people and that may well be an indication of the level of uprising."

Major McKinlay said British forces subsequently fired upon the Iraqi troops. Iraqi officials deny the reported uprising and say that their troops continue to control Basra and the nearby port city of Umm Qasr.

Coalition officials say they control Umm Qasr and will begin shipping humanitarian aid into the port as soon as they have cleared mines from the waters leading to the facility.

The developments come amid reports of a fierce battle between Iraqi troops and coalition forces near Najaf, 160 kilometers south of Baghdad. Another clash was reported near Karbala, some 80 kilometers from the Iraqi capital.

Heavy sandstorms for the past two days have hindered ground troops and helicopter missions. The coalition's director of operations, Major-General Gene Renuart, says his troops, however, continue to advance toward Baghdad.

"We've had a few engagements over the last 24 hours in the vicinity of Al-Nasiriyah and Basra and, as you know, have suffered some casualties," he said. "But we've also inflicted more on the enemy and destroyed a number of their tanks, artillery pieces and troop formations. The bottom line is we're on track and we'll deal with these regular and irregular forces wherever we find them."

Air strikes on Baghdad continued through the night and into the early morning hours Wednesday. A number of Iraqi government ministries were hit and Iraqi television broadcasts were disrupted.

Iraqi officials held several news conferences Tuesday saying that their forces have inflicted heavy damage upon coalition troops and urging Iraqi forces to continue to resist.