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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Battle of Basra: Citizens take Flight

Aired March 29, 2003 - 03:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Britain's famed Desert Rats are in a fight for control of Basra, and while that battle rages, the city's citizens take a life-and-death chance on fleeing the embattled city.
Richard Gaisford has that story for us right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD GAISFORD, EMBEDDED JOURNALIST (voice-over): This is the Basra front line, the bridge where thousands head from the city despite the threat of coming under fire.

This morning as people crossed, Iraqi troops fired mortar rounds at it. Hundreds scattered in fear and panic, much needed supplies left strewn by the side of the road. Some Iraqis were injured and were treated at a British army medical post nearby.

CAPT. HUGO GUTHRIE, BRITISH ARMY: He has four or five mostly just superficial injuries, but all I did was just assess and clean them up. And then as we let them leave, you know, he was going around kissing everybody's hands and sort of being praising and thankful, and it was really very touching.

GAISFORD (on camera): Behind me, the city of Basra less than a mile away, and on this straight road that runs from its center a constant stream of people, many looking for food and water, others for refuge, too, away from the fighting.

(voice-over): Whole families carry as many possession as they can. Many ask for food, although some do appear to be carrying supplies.

These young men were desperate for water. They took my bottle and shared it amongst themselves.

Soldiers take their eye off enemy positions only for long enough to pass sweets to Iraqi children.

Oil trenches continue to burn around the city, an Iraqi tactic to stop low-flying planes. And there's evidence of other ways they had hoped to stop oncoming coalition forces.

(on camera): With "Ministry of Defense Baghdad" written all over these cases of plastic explosive, the intent was clear: to blow up the bridge and stop the Brits from getting to Basra.

(voice-over): Sooner or later, the Desert Rats will go all the way down this road into the city itself, bringing food and water with them. So far, though, no one is saying when it will happen.

Richard Gaisford on the edge of Basra.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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