[Marxism] British diplomats under siege in Basra -- "their" turf
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Aug 29 22:45:01 MDT 2004
The Telegraph (UK)
Aug. 27, 2004
British envoys under siege
By Thomas Harding in Basra
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
The only way in or out of the mission is by military helicopter
and the British Army now moves around Basra only in
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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