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Gaisford: Baath Party headquarters destroyed

Smoke rising from Basra is visible from a British armored vehicle approaching the city Tuesday.
Smoke rising from Basra is visible from a British armored vehicle approaching the city Tuesday.

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NEAR BASRA, Iraq (CNN) -- Richard Gaisford, a British ITN journalist embedded with coalition troops near Basra, spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer via telephone on Tuesday about a popular uprising in the city center against the ruling Baath Party.

BLITZER: Richard, first of all, approximately where are you? And tell us what's happening as far as you can tell in this second largest city of Iraq, namely, Basra.

GAISFORD: Well, I'm on the outskirts of the city. I'm with the Royal Scots Battle Group; that's part of the Desert Rats, 7th Armored Brigade. And we're here with military intelligence officers who are telling us that there's a popular uprising, a popular uprising within the city center of Basra itself.

Now because of that uprising, because of the protest that's happened this afternoon, Iraqi army units still in the city are firing mortar rounds onto the protesters, onto the crowds.

And as a means of support for the uprising, there is artillery being fired into Basra this evening from British positions, and we can see that they're firing them in there to try and take out these mortar rounds. They have a specific radar device that can find out where the mortar rounds are coming from, and then (they are) plotting the coordinates and targeting them as quickly as they possibly can.

We had thought, perhaps, that British troops would go straight into Basra to sort this out. It's possible now they may wait till first light so they can actually get a much better idea of what's happening and the surroundings that they'll be working in.

BLITZER: So this popular uprising, Richard, is by local, I assume, mostly Shia in Basra. They're rising up against the remaining Iraqi regular army forces who are there? Is that right?

GAISFORD: That is absolutely correct. You may remember 12 years ago there was an uprising in Basra that was put down by the Saddam Hussein regime. And that wasn't supported by the British or American military.

This time around it's very different; the military here is saying that they fully want to support this uprising. They want to help them whichever way the can. They've been planning on this happening; perhaps they hadn't thought it was going to happen quite so quickly. And they will do all they can to make sure that it is successful.

And I can tell you in the last half an hour, they have dropped two large bombs on the Baath Party headquarters. That has been destroyed, we're told. It may be that they were American missiles dropped by air.

But as well as that, there is continuing artillery bombardment inside the city itself, destroying the Iraqi position, making it safe, not only for the civilians, but also for, eventually, the British troops to make their way in.

BLITZER: Richard, as we know, 12 years ago, after the Shia in the south, including in Basra, rose up against the Iraqi army, they felt betrayed; they didn't get the support, the close air support, the military support from the coalition at that time.

I take it, this time, these people feel that the U.S. and British forces are going to help them and as a result they're courageously standing up to the Iraqi military?

GAISFORD: I would imagine so. One would think that there's intelligence on the ground, perhaps people helping them on the ground from allied forces to actually make this uprising a possibility.

It's very difficult to say exactly what's going on because there are no media present that I know of, actually, in Basra itself and there's no one broadcasting from the city. We're getting all of our information this day from British military intelligence officers that are with the battle group... the Desert Rats, 7th Armored Brigade. And I have to say, that's where I'm sourcing my information from this evening.

What they telling me is that there's a popular uprising. They can't tell me how many people are involved with that, but they can say that the people who are uprising are being fired upon by Iraqi army units, and that the British military is doing its best now to try and get those units out, to give those civilians some protection.

BLITZER: Can you tell if the U.S. military also is trying to protect those people in Basra who are rising up against the Iraqi army?

GAISFORD: I'm afraid my knowledge of what the U.S. Army is doing in this is limited, because I'm totally embedded with the British forces, and there are no cross-division briefing sessions going on.

This is a developing story. We only came across this an hour or so ago when the artillery units from our particular location started firing. We wanted to know why they were firing into the city, and that was the answer that we were given -- that there was a popular uprising and that we were doing all we could at this stage to protect the people in there from the Iraqi units that were firing upon them.

BLITZER: As far as you could tell, the air power that was used, the bombs that were dropped on the Baath Party headquarters in Basra, the Baath Party, the ruling party of Saddam Hussein, the only party in Iraq, those were two bombs?

Have you heard other bombs going off in Basra from your vantage point?

GAISFORD: We heard -- within the last half an hour, we heard two massive explosions, which were obviously something more than the artillery that's being fired in. We've seen multi-launch rocket systems and other artillery being used, being fired into the city. But this is something very different, indeed -- two large explosions.

Now, it's possible that these were American JDAMers (Joint Direct Attack Munition), the guided missiles, that the attachment has effectively put onto a 500- or 1,000- or 2,000-pound bomb and then dropped from the sky, guided in using satellite navigation. It is possible that's what happened.

The military, we're told, is wanting to use those because it would limit the amount of civilian casualties, and they can do that very quickly and comparatively cheaply. And that is what we're told has happened this evening, they've totally destroyed the Baath Party headquarters in Basra.

BLITZER: Richard Gaisford, British journalist joining us on the phone almost with a breathtaking report, what's happening now in a huge city, more than a million people of Basra, a human uprising, an uprising by many residents in Basra, against the remaining Iraqi military.

Richard, thanks very much. Be careful where you are.

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