The first coalition ship carrying humanitarian aid to Iraq has docked at the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.
The British ship [HMS] Sir Galahad docked Friday evening carrying a cargo of water, food, medicines, blankets and shelter. Humanitarian organizations were gearing up to begin distribution of the supplies in the port city and surrounding areas. They have been warning of a looming crisis since the launch of the military offensive against the Iraqi government.
Aid workers say the situation in nearby Basra, Iraq's second largest city, is even more critical because of ongoing unrest there. British spokesman, Group Captain Al Lockwood, says Iraqi paramilitary forces Friday fired on hundreds of civilians who were trying the leave Basra.
"As they left they were followed by paramilitary forces who opened fire on the civilians," Captain Lockwood said. "Fortunately, Black Watch [British forces] observed what was happening, moved forward, placing themselves between the civilians and the paramilitaries, and have engaged the paramilitaries."
The Deputy Director of Coalition Operations, U.S. Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks, was asked if a civilian uprising is occurring in Basra. He says it may be an uprising or simply civilians trying to look for food or flee a tense situation.
"There is, in fact, a developing situation in Basra that is somewhat confusing, and we have these [Iraqi] forces out there that have shown a willingness to fire into Basra which resulted in counter-fire by UK forces," General Brooks said.
Coalition ground forces, meanwhile, continue to face attacks from Iraqi troops and militia around the cities of Najaf and Nasiriyah. And a senior coalition commander said some troops in central Iraq were experiencing shortages of supplies.
General Brooks acknowledged the two days of sandstorms earlier this week have caused problems.
"We were indeed hindered for a period of time by weather. Our ability to fly in supplies, for example, was reduced," he explained. "So the flow of supplies did change for a period of time. But we're still able to conduct the operations as we see them, and we're still on our plan."
Asked about the effect of what were termed guerrilla tactics by Iraqi forces, General Brooks said a tactic like using human shields is not guerrilla warfare, but rather a brutal act by a repressive force.
General Brooks said the deadly explosion at a Baghdad market two days ago was still under investigation. But he confirmed that a missile strike Friday on a major telecommunications link in Baghdad was by coalition forces and said it was aimed at disrupting the Iraqi military command network.