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British Military Encouraging Iraqi Surrender in Basra - 2003-04-05

The British military is encouraging militant supporters of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to surrender in the southern city of Basra.

British military officials say leaders of the ruling Baath party of Saddam Hussein should give up now to avoid more civilian deaths in Basra.

This in reaction to a report in the pan-Arab Asharq al-Aswat newspaper that Baath Party activists want to surrender if Baghdad falls because they fear reprisals from the citizens of Basra.

A British Army spokesman, Captain Al Lockwood, told British radio Saturday he would encourage the Baath militants to give up the fight. "My word to them would be to take the initiative. There are many avenues available to them to contact our forces and if they wish to surrender the city we would help them enormously, more than willing, and let's stop the fighting and any chance of civilian casualties," he said.

British forces have surrounded Basra since the early days of the campaign, which began March 20, and Captain Lockwood says there is still no hurry to rush into the city. "In reality we can't speed the fall of Basra. We are conscience obviously of the people who live there. Their safety is our primary concern," he said. "We are treating it very carefully. They are becoming more confident in us every day. We are getting lots of very good information from people who are talking to us. And resistance is dropping off as the days go on."

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said aid deliveries in British-controlled parts of southern Iraq have been chaotic. But Captain Lockwood said the criticism was unfair. He said in the past four days the British have successfully delivered 100,000 meals and 750,000 liters of water to the area's population.