This is from The Times in London
BRITISH Forces beat a tactical retreat from Basra yesterday as they abandoned hopes of taking swift control of Iraq’s second city.
A British soldier was killed near al-Zubayr, south of the city, as units of the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, came under sustained mortar fire and unexpected resistance in areas outside the allied containment ring.
Elements of the brigade, including the Challenger 2 tanks of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, pulled away from the city early in the morning. Some of the strongest resistance came from the Fedayin militia and security services armed with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns.
Captain Patrick Trueman of the Guards said: “We’re currently taking stock of the situation. We were expecting a lot of hands up from Iraqi soldiers and for the humanitarian operation in Basra to begin fairly quickly behind us, with aid organisations providing food and water to the locals. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. There are significant elements in Basra who are hugely loyal to the regime.”
The soldier died yesterday after being shot on Sunday night as he tried to calm rioting Iraqi civilians. It was reported that the shooting occurred during a “civil disturbance in the Basra area”, but the Ministry of Defence refused to give further details. Next of kin were informed. It brought the British death toll to 17.
The partial retreat from Basra underlined fears that British troops could be dragged into prolonged and bloody urban warfare. Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, made the best of the difficulties there. Mr Blair said that Basra had been surrounded and the airport made secure. He said it could not be used as an Iraqi base. But he added there were “pockets of Saddam’s most fiercely loyal security services” who were holding out. “They are contained but still able to inflict casualties on our troops and so we are proceeding with caution.”
Mr Hoon said that the towns and cities in the south did not have military and strategic significance. They would be “liberated” eventually, but it was best to be patient, he said.
Basra has been besieged since the weekend, but there was no sign that the Iraqi defence was about to crumble quickly. Nor did it appear that the civilian population was ready to welcome the troops with open arms.