Insecurity in Southern Iraq

  • Share
  • Read Later
The contrast between the upbeat briefings being given by the Pentagon and Centcom in Qatar and the actual situation on the ground in southern Iraq is becoming ever more striking. Since the ground war started last Thursday, U.S. forces have indeed raced forward, reaching Najaf and other points in the north that are within striking distance of Baghdad. But the costs of this rapid advance are now being paid. There is mounting insecurity behind the front lines, and spreading harrassment of the long logistics column that links Kuwait with the troops 240 miles to the northwest.

War on Iraq's ongoing coverage of the U.S.-Iraq conflict

 After Saddam
Who will step in to fill the void?

 Tools of the Hunt
 On Assignment: The War

 Perry: Street Fighting in Karbala
 Robinson: Chaos at a Bridge
 Ware: Last Stand for Saddam

 When the Cheering Stops
Jubilation and chaos greet the fall of Saddam's regime, leaving Iraqis and Americans puzzling over how to rebuild the nation
 The Search for the Smoking Gun
 Counting the Casualties War in Iraq
Journalists who have crossed the border from Kuwait into southern Iraq have found that local people are far from the joyous celebrating crowds that the U.S. and UK miltary had hoped for. Many are surly or resentful of the foreign military presence, and impatient to get humanitarian aid that still hasn't arrived.

First problem is the port city of Umm Qasr in the south. This was said by the Pentagon to have been taken last Friday, but as late as today — Monday — house to house fighting continued there, holding up coalition plans to ship in humanitarian aid by sea.

Also insecure is the town of Safwan. This was the first town taken last week —but now armed Baathist party members have regrouped, and last night were about to attack a group of journalists camped out near that town until the British military told the reporters to leave quickly, under the cover of darkness. They spent an uncomfortable night further up the road to Nasiriyah before being evaucated to Kuwait this morning by a military convoy.

Route 8, the main road north from Kuwait to Nasiriyah and ultimately to Baghdad, is seeing deteriorating security. The advance units moved so quickly that they had no time to pacify hostile pockets en route, and now there are armed Iraqis roaming this road, which is still the main logistics route for frontline US troops. That is why the prisoners from the 507 Maintenance unit were taken yesterday; they are rear echelon troops, but were ambushed by Iraqi forces who had not been dispersed by the first advance.

The situation in Basra is also not going that well for the British, whose prime responsibility it is to take that city. British forces claim to have taken the airport and to be positioned 3 miles to the west of Basra, but last night took a lot of shelling and there are some concerns that units of the elite Republican Guard may have been secretly sent to help defend Basra, contrary to coalition expectations. Nor is time on the British forces' side — according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Basra is running out of fresh water, and unless the city is quickly taken there will be a huge humanitarian crisis in there, exactly the opposite of what the coalition was hoping to show from a town that some thought would be happy to surrender to the anti-Saddam armies.