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Update from WP: Baath official captured


Henry

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Good news today. I particularly like the stuff at the end. :)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27233-2003Mar25.html

British Capture Top Baath Official

Leader Was Organizing Resistance to Allied Invasion

By Peter Baker

Washington Post Foreign Service

Tuesday, March 25, 2003; 5:13 PM

WITH U.S. FORCES, Southern Iraq, March 25 -- British soldiers and sniper teams operating under cover of darkness stormed a local Baath Party headquarters in southeastern Iraq to capture a top official who had been organizing resistance to the U.S.-British invasion, officers said today.

The British snuck two companies from a 7th Armored Brigade regiment known as the Black Watch into the town center of Zubair, a vital city in southeastern Iraq that has been particularly troublesome for coalition forces trying to secure the region. Zubair, located just to the southwest of Basra, the regional hub, serves as home to a navy base and an important oil facility.

One of the companies stormed into the housing or headquarters section of the party headquarters, while the other secured the inner perimeter and found the target. British officials did not identify the target but described him as a leading force behind the attacks on invading troops in recent days. U.S. intelligence indicated that the building was used as a staging area for military operations and a transfer station for any American or British prisoners of war.

At least 20 Iraqis were reported killed in the Monday night raid, which involved two to three hours of intense fighting, according to British officers. No British soldiers were reported killed.

The British commanders, operating under U.S. Marine Gen. James T. Conway, have taken charge of most of southeastern Iraq while the Marines charge toward Baghdad. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has moved out of the Umm Qasr port area to head west and north, replaced by the British.

With the responsibility of tamping down the sort of small-scale attacks that have besieged U.S. and British forces in the area, the British commanders are rapidly turning to the sorts of tactics they perfected in Northern Ireland. Under such a strategy, they plan to rely on unconventional operations such as the Zubair raid as well as conventional tank battles such as those that have taken place around Basra in recent days.

Maj. Steve McQueenie, a British liaison officer at the U.S. Marine headquarters in southern Iraq, said commanders were afraid that Zubair could turn into "the wild west" and were determined to prevent it.

"That will not happen in our area of operation," he said. "We will not have disruption within our area of operation."

McQueenie said the "hit and run, terrorist tactics" employed by the Iraqis in the area were familiar to the British after their decades of battling Irish nationalists. "This is our bread and butter. We've been doing this for a long time. . . . Yes, the enemy has now gone to unconventional tactics. But we have been doing this for a long, long time. . . . We must be able to squash that so we can get on with the job of regime change."

Another British officer said the raid should send a signal to the Baath Party militia, Saddam's Fedayeen or other paramilitary fighters who have been waging guerrilla war against the U.S. and British troops. "It's going to have a fairly demoralizing effect," predicted Maj. Nigel Williams. "The intent there is that hopefully they'll put their weapons down and go home."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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Here's a great, detailed account of the operation. Cool stuff. Don't f*** with the Brits! :laugh:

British stage snatch raid

GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN WITH THE BLACK WATCH

THE operation to decapitate Saddam Hussein’s apparatus of terror in the south of Iraq began just after dawn. A Warrior tank turned into a side road in the town of Az Zubayr close to Basra, and smashed straight through the outside wall of a two-storey house.

Accelerating as it went, the tank plunged through the ten-foot high perimeter wall and just kept on going. Bricks and masonry showered down on to its metal hatch. The moment of impact was the first inkling that any of those sleeping inside had that anything was wrong; by then it was too late.

British troops swarmed through what was left of the blue-bricked building, determined that their quarry would not escape. They had good reason not to want to let him get away. The man they were after, a leading Baath Party official, was suspected of involvement in Sunday’s attack on a Land Rover carrying two Royal Engineers in Az Zubayr.

Neither of the engineers has been seen since.

After a brief but ferocious battle, the Baath Party man had been snatched and at least seven of his henchmen were dead. The coalition force suffered one minor casualty from shrapnel wounds.

The attack on the house at Az Zubayr was the first strike in a new phase of the British military campaign in southern Iraq.

The 7th Armoured Brigade has abandoned attempts to simply secure the outside of Basra and is now deliberately targeting Saddam Hussein’s political leadership in the city and the surrounding region.

"We are now targeting leadership objectives in Basra," said a British military source.

"This is unconventional fighting and we are very good at it."

Similar targeted attacks were launched in Basra yesterday with a massive 1,000lb JDAM bomb dropped on the city’s Baath Party headquarters.

Last night the "decapitation" strikes appeared to have stirred the first signs of rebellion among the oppressed Shiite population in Iraq’s second city, with reports of rioting and fierce internecine fighting on the streets.

In Az Zubayr, the dawn attack on the Baath Party leader saw one of the most violent clashes experienced by British soldiers in the conflict so far.

As soon as the building was rammed, a fire fight broke out. Militia men in neighbouring houses, who were supposed to be on guard, belatedly woke up to the danger.

Bullets and rocket-propelled grenades flew through the air as they opened fire, but the men of D Company of the Black Watch had come in strength.

With rounds ricocheting off the ground in front of them, they poured out of their armoured vehicles, hitting the ground running and letting fly with everything in their armoury.

Rifles, grenades, the Warriors’ 30mm main guns, chain guns and even an anti-tank missile were turned on the defenders.

Within minutes, at least seven Iraqis were dead and many more lay injured.

Lance Corporal Colin Edwards, heart pounding, gave the Iraqi defenders everything he had.

A few moments earlier, the 19-year-old from Dundee, had been sitting nervously in the back of his Warrior, listening to the commanding officer running through the final instructions for the attack over the clatter of their own machine gun as it blasted away.

When the doors swung open, he leapt out and opened up in the direction of the muzzle flashes of the Iraqi guns.

"As soon as we jumped out the chain gun was going," he said. "There were small arms rounds bouncing off the ground right in front of us but we were firing away at them too, trying to keep their heads down.

"Everything was going in, grenades, Warriors laying down 30 millimetre fire, anti-tank weapons, everything."

Inside the lead Warrior tank, Major Douggie Hay, the man masterminding the operation, was enjoying the moment.

He had been planning the raid all day, since his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Mark Riddell-Webster had warned him on Monday morning that he and his men may have to undertake a slightly tricky operation.

"We knew where the house was and that the Baath party official was probably there, but it wasn’t until 9pm that the CO said we were on for it. Then we went up to plan the final bit of the raid which was the snatch itself."

With 120 men and a troop of tanks, he was confident they had the resources to carry out a successful operation, but they ran through it a couple of times before heading off just after 5:15am yesterday morning.

"We planned it so we went in just as the light was up, giving us enough light to see where we were going but also to achieve some surprise. As we drove through the town, there was no-one around at all."

Driving down narrow streets, they spotted their target just before 5:40am, a square house about 20ft high, flat-roofed and surrounded by a high defensive perimeter wall.

Major Hay said: "We sped straight at the target house with three Warriors next to me, ramming the protective brick wall into the house and the assault started.

"The driver said it was surreal sitting in the driver’s seat watching the wall fall down on him. Everyone was still in bed or just getting up, it was really quiet.

"But after a couple of minutes they started opening up on us firing at us from two or three positions outside the house. The place came alive almost instantaneously.

"One of our lads got a shrapnel wound from the initial burst of fire, but nothing of great consequence. It went right between him and the bloke next to him as they tried to batter down a door."

The target house, they discovered, was defended not just by the perimeter wall but by militia men positioned in the nearby buildings. But with the guards occupied by the tanks and Warrior teams, those inside the house had time to carry out a thorough search.

Grabbing the man they were after, they bundled him into the back of the Warrior, now half-buried beneath the shattered brick work of the living-room wall.

With the engine screaming, the driver slammed it into reverse and they were off, leaving as quickly as they had arrived.

Colonel Chris Vernon said: "He was sitting there in his little building thinking great, have a good evening, have a good morning, then whack we’re in, whack he’s out and 20 of them are gone, just like that."

A job well done, the CO said later. The message was repeated by Air Marshall Brian Burridge, the senior British military officer in the Gulf.

He said: "We’ve always known we’ve had to get at them, and we did that last night in Az Zubayr. We went to their headquarters and engaged in contact with them ... and made it quite clear to them - we, the British forces, are up for this, and you are going to have a very hard time."

It was a clear message to the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s political network in southern Iraq that the British force now means business.

News of the attack on Az Zubayr travelled quickly around the region. After Saddam’s defeat in the 1991 Gulf war, the one million Shiites who make up the vast majority of Basra’s population, rose up against his regime and slaughtered hundreds of Baath Party officials and sympathisers in the city. The Iraqi dictator struck back as he regained control of his shattered nation and it is estimated tens of thousands of people suspected of joining the rebellion have since been executed.

It is the brutality of Saddam’s reprisals, and uncertainty over the success of the coalition in removing him from power, that has discouraged a similar popular uprising in Basra until now.

Signs that the Iraqi forces in the city are running out of options were seen yesterday lunchtime when a column of Iraqi T-55 tanks with the 51st Division suddenly broke out of the city heading south, apparently intending to attack the positions of 3 Commando Brigade on the Al Faw peninsula.

They never reached their objective as massive AS-90 Howitzers and Challenger 2 tanks operated by the Queen’s Dragoons’ Guards were joined by helicopter gunships from HMS Ark Royal to pick off the advancing armour.

The first wave of 11 vehicles, including tanks and artillery pieces, were all destroyed and the British force then faced a counter attack from up to 50 Iraqi tanks storming out of Basra. RAF Harrier jets and A-10 tank-busters were called in to deliver laser-guided bombs and armour-piercing depleted uranium bullets into the Iraqi tanks.

Some of the T-55 tanks were destroyed after they retreated to houses in the nearby village of Abul Khasib.

A total of 20 of the Iraqi tanks were taken out of action in the entire battle and scores of Iraqi regular soldiers are believed to have been killed.

The original coalition battle plan was for British forces to surround the city but not attack it, in the hope that the civilian population would welcome the liberation from Saddam Hussein’s chain of command.

But hundreds of Iraqi irregular militiamen have been posted in the city, drawn from political activists in the Baath Party and the Saddam Fedayeen, to suppress a popular uprising by the city’s Shiite majority.

British troops described how Iraqis were using terrified civilians as human shields as fighting raged around Basra. Desert Rats were powerless to hit back as guerrillas in civilian clothes fired over the shoulders of their captives.

Col Vernon said yesterday at the British Army HQ: "We have received disturbing reports that civilians are being used as human shields. Enemy gunmen in civilian clothes are firing from behind them at 7th Armoured Brigade forces, then retreating."

As part of the battle to loosen the grip of the guerrilla elements in Basra, coalition forces dropped satellite-guided 1,000lb J-Dam bombs on the city.

They are the first bomb strikes on the residential centre of Basra. The bombs, dropped by American F-18 Super Hornet war planes, were aimed at targets which were described by British Army officers as military sites hidden inside civilian buildings.

One was a large ammunition dump, containing weapons, bullets, shells and other munitions, and the second was a building reportedly used as an operational base by Iraqi fighters in the city.

Heavy fighting also continued on the outskirts of the city with British forces firing across the Shatt al-Basra waterway at Iraqi armour on the other side.

A "ring of steel" thrown around the city in the opening stages of the conflict has had holes punched through it by the incessant Iraqi ambushes. A tank unit with the 7th Armoured Brigade withdrew from a northern route out of the city on Monday leaving the Basra to Amara road in the hands of Iraqi forces, which allows reinforcements to enter from Baghdad.

US Predator surveillance drones are patrolling the road, looking for Iraqi surface-to-surface missile launchers that are still firing Al Abadil-100 and al-Samoud missiles at Kuwait.

"We are driving them northwards and the missiles are now starting to drop in the desert north of Kuwait, indicating we are pushing them back to limit of their range," a military spokesman said.

Securing Basra will be vital for the humanitarian effort to bring in water and food to the people of the city.

The International Red Cross has started repairs at the damaged Wafaa Al-Quaid water pumping station to the north of the city, which provides 60 per cent of the city of Basra’s water supplies.

The British say the water plant was shut down by Saddam’s supporters and then blamed on coalition military strikes as a propaganda exercise.

A senior British military source said that the battle for Basra had entered a new phase with the aim of separating Saddam’s fearsome political apparatus from the regular military and from the civilian population.

"We are now going after the leaders and cutting them down," the source said. "We are moving a wedge between the Baath Party and the people," said Colonel Chris Vernon.

"We are trying to gain the confidence of the people so that they can assert themselves as we believe, looking back to the Gulf war, is probably their desire."

Once Saddam’s political machinery is decapitated in the south of Iraq, the British forces believe it is only a matter of time before they are welcomed into Basra as liberators of a city that has suffered more than any other under Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Additional reporting by Paul Gallagher and Tim Ripley at US Central Command, Qatar.

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