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Marines securing Iraqi port city

Umm Qasr will be entry point for humanitarian aid

Britain's 40 Commando, Royal Marines captured oil installations in the Faw Peninsula of southern Iraq.
Britain's 40 Commando, Royal Marines captured oil installations in the Faw Peninsula of southern Iraq.

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UMM QASR, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Marines are working to secure this strategically important port city Saturday and process Iraqi soldiers being held prisoner.

Coalition forces, which had taken the city a day earlier, were going from building to building, even looking in shipping containers in the port to ferret out remaining enemy forces, said CNN correspondent Jason Bellini, embedded with the Marine Expeditionary Unit, 15th Artillery.

Many of the Iraqi soldiers found were wearing civilian clothes over a military uniform. They are being kept, bound by plastic handcuffs, in a warehouse at the docks.

Ships in port have not yet been boarded, Bellini said. The U.S.-led coalition forces hope to open port to shipping soon to bring in humanitarian aid to Iraqis.

Allied troops have taken control of the strategically important Faw Peninsula, including the port town of Umm Qasr, a U.S. defense force spokesman has said.

The area, a gateway to southern Iraq, contains the nation's main oil pipeline terminals and allows access to the Persian Gulf.

Lt. Col. Rick Long, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said the area had been captured Friday afternoon.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said humanitarian aid will enter Iraq through Umm Qasr.

He told the House of Commons that the port "will be vital to the economic future of southern Iraq."

U.S. Marines captured the new port early Friday and planted an American flag, but the British Royal Marines -- who are working in tandem in southern Iraq -- were held up trying to take the old port by stiff resistance from Iraqi fighters.

The battle for Umm Qasr had been expected to take between one to two hours but took four hours, Bellini said.

Four Iraqi soldiers were killed, and hundreds more surrendered. No allied casualties were reported.

Iraqi Interior Minister Mahmud Dhiyab al Ahmad had previously denied that U.S. forces had entered the new port and had vowed his country "will resist, and we will say this will be a fight."

British forces captured the peninsula in a pre-dawn raid, Col. Steve Cox of the 40 Commando Royal Marines landing force said.

By the end of the operation, the commandos had taken dozens of prisoners -- many of them voluntary. CNN's Christiane Amanpour said 250 Iraqi soldiers had surrendered to U.S. troops, and 30 others had given themselves over to British forces.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Sahef said the prisoners of war were not soldiers. (Full Story)

In the first official Iraqi response to the U.S.-led attack, Sahef said: "These guys are not from the Iraqi army. These are not Iraqi soldiers. They are not members of any of the Iraqi armed forces."

Some of the captured men appeared to be soldiers, but others seemed to be dock workers wearing blue uniforms with an anchor emblem, Bellini said.

-- CNN Radio correspondent John Bisney contributed to this report.

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