[Marxism] British diplomats under siege in Basra -- "their" turf

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Aug 29 22:45:01 MDT 2004


The Telegraph (UK)
Aug. 27, 2004

British envoys under siege
in Basra

By Thomas Harding in Basra
(Filed: 27/08/2004) 

The British diplomatic mission in Basra has been under 
siege for three weeks, suffering almost daily mortar 
attacks as security in the southern Iraq city has 
deteriorated dramatically.

The only way in or out of the mission is by military helicopter 
and the British Army now moves around Basra only in 
armoured vehicles.

Since the start of the uprising in the holy city of Najaf earlier 
this month there has been a "lockdown" at the Office of the 
British Embassy in Basra, an extension of the Baghdad 
embassy, as militiamen loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada 
al-Sadr have taken control of large areas of the city.

The building is a former Saddam Hussein palace on the banks 
of the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The 50 members of staff are 
protected by 60 former Gurkhas and a company of soldiers. A 
further detachment of troops from the Black Watch also guards 
the area, sealed off by 12ft-high concrete walls, with more than 
a dozen Warrior armoured fighting vehicles. The roofs of 
containers, converted to accommodation, are protected by sand
bags and blast walls.

At night everyone must wear body armour and, after two separate 
attacks yesterday, when four mortar rounds landed close to the 
perimeter, staff were forbidden to venture outside.

Two British military bases in the north of the city were also 
attacked and another rocketed yesterday.

During a flight into the embassy compound, a Chinook helicopter 
deployed a series of anti-missile flares in defence against surface 
to air missiles as it skimmed at 60ft across a highway on the 
outskirts of Basra.

After the aircraft touched down, it was rapidly emptied of its 
troops and equipment.

The Mahdi army rebels have severely dented British plans for the
desperately needed reconstruction of the city. Bands of insurgents 
carrying rocket-propelled grenades and machine-guns roam the 
streets freely, setting up illegal check-points and imposing curfews.
The poorly armed nascent police force has little control in the city 
and focuses on protecting its stations.

The chief of police has allegedly been seen entering the office 
of Sadr's representative on several occasions.

Commander Kevin Hurley, a City of London policeman training 
Iraqis, said: "It's a question of battening down the hatches and 
securing the police stations. They just don't have the armoured 
vehicles and heavy weaponry to take on the militia."

Further pressure was put on the security forces after 180
prisoners, including many members of the Mahdi army, 
escaped from a prison in Amarah, a town north of Basra,
during a mass breakout five days ago.

The justice system is in danger of collapsing in the city with 
defendants coming to court armed with rifles and grenade
launchers and threatening to kill judges. Written and signed 
death threats have been delivered.

"Judges are understandably concerned about their safety,"
said Pauline Popp-Madsen, a justice adviser from Denmark.
"And, if we lose the judiciary, then basically we are finished.
"It's very depressing because we don't want an intimidated 
judiciary." As the siege continues, medical supplies, water 
pipes, cement and electrical cabling that are vital to Basra's 
reconstruction are piling up on the Kuwaiti border.

Stocks of medicine were so low at the weekend that a 
military convoy had to be escorted by British armour to 
deliver £13,000 of aid to Basra hospital.

The whisky has run out in the British office but there is enough 
food for almost three weeks and an atmosphere of stoicism 
prevails. "The rations are low but the mood is high," said Paul 
Briddle, a prison governor training the Iraqis.

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