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British anger at Iraqi mortar fire

A British soldier walks past ruined buildings in Mushirij, near Basra.
A British soldier walks past ruined buildings in Mushirij, near Basra.

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- A British military official said Monday Iraqi paramilitary forces were "indiscriminately" firing mortars in the southern city of Basra.

But his claims were challenged by the Iraqi general who British forces mistakenly claimed Sunday to have captured near Basra, who made the same allegations against coalition troops.

"It's just a terror tactic, said Group Capt. Al Lockwood. "They're using it against their own civilians. There's obviously no determined targeting."

According to reports from embedded reporters, the mortar launchers have been mounted on the backs of pickup trucks and are being fired throughout the southeastern city.

"It's just a tactic to try and create as much mayhem as possible," Lockwood said. "They have no regard for civilian life. They have little regard for their own lives."

Iraqi Gen. Walid Hamid Tawfic told Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera that British fighters were "bombing randomly," and had hit a civilian area in Abu Khassib and nearby areas, wounding "the elderly, women, and children." Tawfic said they used cluster and air-detonated bombs.

"Now, the enemy is confused," Tawfic said. "They are in fields and enclaves and do not know how to get out. We continue the fight using all means. You hear the sounds of explosions and tanks. Units are still engaged in battle."

Coalition forces say their bombing is planned to hit military targets and minimize civilian deaths. It is not known how many civilians have died in Basra.

Tank battle

British Marines Sunday stormed into a suburb of Basra, capturing five senior Iraqi military officials -- but not the general they had initially identified, the military said. (British backtrack)

The pre-dawn operation by the British Marines southeast of Basra occurred as coalition forces sought to eradicate military, paramilitary and ruling Baath Party leadership from the Basra province.

Royal Air Force Group Capt. Jon Fynes also said Monday that British forces had engaged tanks north of Basra and called in close air support which destroyed the Iraqi force using precision weapons.

Lockwood said some of the paramilitary fighters fled westward when the Marines arrived. "I know we're aggressively patrolling the outskirts [of Basra] and certainly part of it will be under our control."

The Marines destroyed a television tower and wall-size, concrete image of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the city.

The push was part of Operation James, named after the popular fictitious British secret agent James Bond, and components of it have been named after the character's danger-filled exploits.

Sunday's troops encountered a stiff Iraqi military defense when they entered the area, including more nearly two dozen T-55 tanks and heavy artillery, British pool reporter Dave Bowden reported. The weaponry was dismantled.

Lockwood said up to 250 paramilitaries and Baath Party members were killed Saturday when Air Force F-15E fighters bombed a building in Basra containing the loyalists.

Basra villagers were providing useful information to the British military, he said, and the Britons were trying to gain more of their confidence. Food and aid stations have been set up outside the city, he said.

Group Capt. Fynes added that coalition forces were "trying to persuade the people [of Basra] that the regime is going away for them and they need to trust us."


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