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British 'taking control' of Basra

A British soldier guards an Iraqi POW at a camp in Basra.

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British troops stationed on the outskirts of Basra, have been making their way into the city, clearing mine fields along the way.
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CNN's Mike Boettcher reports on a special operations team that expected an ordinary day at an outpost but ended up under Iraqi mortar fire.
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BASRA, Iraq (CNN) -- British forces have made their largest incursion into Basra, setting up a base inside Iraq's second-largest city.

The British military reported three of its soldiers were killed as forces moved to secure the strategic city of Basra in an early morning raid on Sunday.

British officials stressed their forces had not taken full control of the southern Iraqi city -- they were meeting pockets of resistance throughout the area -- but said they were "making good progress."

Troops entered the city from the south and west, with forces deciding to stay in Basra to begin securing the city for a humanitarian program, according to CNN's Diana Muriel.

Airstrikes two nights earlier killed a number of Baath Party officials, and left the resistance in disarray, turning Sunday's probe into a big push, British military sources told Muriel.

One of the raids was on the home of "Chemical Ali," a cousin of Saddam Hussein who reportedly ordered the use of chemical weapons against Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988, killing about 5,000 people.

Capt. Al Lockwood, spokesman for British military at Central Command, quoted reliable sources saying the body of Chemical Ali, whose real name is Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majeed, had been found. Earlier they had identified his personal bodyguard as among those killed.

Chemical Ali had been coordinating resistance in southern Iraq. The strike killed his bodyguard and other cousins of Saddam, Muriel said.

British troops, with the support of coalition air power, have been pushing steadily into Basra since shortly after the start of the war, facing fierce resistance from Iraqi regular and irregular troops.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said Monday that British troops are in Basra to stay and will remain there as long as necessary.

The minister was "extraordinarily encouraged" by reports that local Iraqis were welcoming the British forces, and the Army would work towards increasing aid to the area.

But Hoon warned coalition forces "may well face a difficult and dangerous period" from resistance by remnants of pro-Saddam forces.

"There is still a great deal of work to do and that will continue."

He said the coalition is "not sure" of the whereabouts of Saddam and his sons.

Earlier Sunday, British military spokesman Col. Chris Vernon in Kuwait City said three battle groups had set out for the center of Basra.

British Royal Commandos encircled its southern parts, and overnight Saturday the 7th Armored Brigade went into and secured a "chunk of central Basra," military officials told David Bowden, a British reporter embedded in the area.

Bowden accompanied the Queen's Dragoons Guards as they pushed within a couple of miles of the city's center Saturday. The city's outskirts "appeared to be a ghost town," and the few people left were leaving.

Over the weekend, British forces conducted raids on homes of people believed to be members of Saddam's Baath Party and the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam.

These people, coalition officials said, are behind much of the brutality and corruption that has kept residents under Saddam's control.

Vernon said once Baath Party officials are removed, his troops will begin "playing to the hearts and minds of the civilian population," and take on a humanitarian role.

Basra residents are somewhat reluctant to embrace the coalition.

In 1991, the heavily Shiite population of the city staged an uprising against the Saddam's regime, but without coalition support, the regime crushed the uprising, killing thousands.

But some Iraqis in Basra cheered as British forces worked to secure the city.

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