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Fleeing civilians under fire

Basra, April 6 (Reuters): Pro-Saddam militiamen with AK-47 assault rifles today opened fire on civilian vehicles here, wounding one man, in an attempt to force civilians to fight US and British troops, witnesses said.

The wounded man, Waleed Ja’awil, 18, was riding in the back of a pick-up truck when Baath Party militiamen dressed in civilian clothes shot at the farmer and his three cousins.

The truck raced out of the city and stopped on the edge of Basra near a British military camp. Ja’awil lay groaning with a bullet in his upper leg, blood soaking his clothes.

“We were leaving a mechanics shop and as we turned on the road out of Basra three Baath Party militiamen with AK-47s started shouting ‘come back you must fight’ and then shot at us,” his cousin, Saachid Aber said.

“They were shooting at other cars as well who wanted to leave Basra. They were dressed in civilian clothes. They are known in Basra,” he added.

The attack was the first evidence that Baath militiamen were shooting civilians in a bid to beef up resistance against allied troops who control the highways around Basra.

Iraqis said those loyal to President Saddam Hussein have been waging a ... “terror campaign”... to force them to resist US and British troops. The intimidation includes arrests, torture and late night visits to homes to warn people they must fight or face severe punishment.

The shooting came a few hours after British troops, tanks and armoured vehicles made their largest sustained incursion into Basra since the war started more than two weeks ago.

Many Shi’ites, who live mostly in the south, hope Saddam will fall. But some are losing hope that the Iraqi President can be removed because the allied advance through the south is moving slower than expected.

Ja’awil lay on the dirt in agony as British medics injected morphine into his arm and patched up his wound.

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