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UK forces dropped in north 'eliminated': Iraq

The British force, which had been dropped near the strategic city of Mosul, had been eliminated mostly, the Information Minister said.

india Updated: Apr 01, 2003 19:44 IST

Iraqi soldiers prevented British forces from landing near the strategic city of Mosul in northern Iraq, and killed many of the troops, Information Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf saidon Tuesday.

"The British force which had been dropped there has been eliminated mostly. Only a few managed to flee by helicopter," Sahhaf said in his daily briefing to reporters on the war.

The minister also said 18 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in British and US air strikes on Baghdad since Monday evening, but painted a very different picture from US officials on battles raging in the south.

He said the British landing took place in the Baaj district west of Mosul. He did not say when it happened, and there has been no confirmation from British sources.

Mosul, some 450 kilometres north of Baghdad, has been the target of repeated coalition air strikes as Britain and the United States attempt to soften its defences ahead of the long-awaited opening of a second front in the north.

He said the Iraqi fighters, included the paramilitary Saddam's Fedayeen militia, which attacked the British landing captured "most of their equipment, their weapons, their armoured cars and vehicles."

"It is a complete defeat for the first military drop in the north. And amazingly, the Americans had pushed the British to do that, as if it was an experiment to be implemented on the British to see what are the results. The results were very tragic for the British," he said, without saying exactly how many British soldiers were killed.

The Arabic satellite news channel Al-Jazeera for its part reported the landing took place on Sunday night. On Tuesday, it broadcast images of locals parading weapons and ammunition, as well as military vehicles, apparently belonging to British forces.

Some 1,000 troops from the US Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade have parachuted into Kurdish-held territory in the northern Iraq, while another 1,000 special forces have been deployed in the region.

Sahhaf also said that "fierce battles" had taken place between British troops and Iraqi forces in the southern town of Abu al-Khasib, near the country's second city of Basra.

"They inflicted high casualties on the British troops there and the corpses of the enemy are still there on the battleground," he said.

However, reports from the scene said the last Iraqi resistance had been wiped out in Abu al-Khasib and that the British troops were being welcomed by some residents.

The British attacked outlying areas of Basra on Monday but were awaiting reinforcements before any drive into the town centre, which has been defended by paramilitary forces fiercely loyal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The minster also said that Iraqi forces had downed a US helicopter on the outskirts of Basra.

US troops were "confronted by a mechanized Iraqi unit, then the American column retreated. Then the Iraqi side shot down one helicopter," he said.

He said there was more heavy fighting in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

"In Nasiriyah, again a very fierce battle is taking place up until this moment when I'm talking to you. (US forces) have approached the city again, they are thrusting toward the city, and fierce battles are taking place," he said.

First Published: Apr 01, 2003 19:44 IST