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Iraqi Defence Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad has told a news conference that the enemy had failed to expand their positions in Umm Qasr. In Basra, he said, they had a foothold in the airport; henoted that they had been opposed inthe city by forces from the 51st Division which was alleged to have surrendered. He said enemy forces had managed to bypass Nasiriyah and were heading for Najaf. The enemy had brought no surprises, Ahmad said. Asked by a journalist about the reported shooting down of coalition pilots, he said searches were still going on . The following is an excerpt from the news conference, which was also attended by Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al;-Sahhaf, broadcast by Iraqi satellite TV on 23 March, subheadings inserted editorially:
Ahmad Thank you for giving me the chance to meet these good people and present to them the facts as they are. Two days ago, we met a smaller group of your colleagues in another place to talk about the details of the battles that took place on 20 and 21 March. Now I will talk about the battles of 22 and 23 March.
I will use simple and clear words in my briefing so military and non-military people can understand it. I will start with the Southern Command, which is led by General Ali Hasan al-Majid. I will begin with the Umm Qasr sector.
Two days ago I said the enemy managed to control 10 docks and part of the Umm Qasr port. The criminal US-British enemy began to beef up their presence there in a bid to drive the steadfast Iraqi force out of Umm Qasr. I can say that 48 hours after we met the first time the US and British forces failed to expand their positions there. They tried to attack the force more than once. break in reception The heroic 54th Brigade continues to fight them fiercely and is determined to continue fighting them until it repulses them and they withdraw, leaving the area, God willing. This is the situation in Umm Qasr. As for the situation in Al-Faw, I said two days ago that the US-British enemy managed to land units behind the city of Al-Faw in an area north of the city we call the oil area. The enemy reinforced its presence there to either advance toward Basra or fight the Iraqi forces in the city, including the fighters of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party, the staff of administrative bodies, and members of tribes in Al-Faw.
Over the past 48 hours, the enemy has only been able to capture one or two square kilometers. It then expanded the area in order to make room for additional units. Our units are still fighting the enemy units at their position. The position we are talking about is around 80 km from Basra. This is only to explain the situation. When I say 80 km, I do not mean it is exactly that, because we are waiting for them in Basra. The enemy units have not been able to achieve anything. Our units will fight the enemy from one position to another all the way to Basra. This is as far as the Al-Faw sector is concerned.
As regards the other sector, Basra, in our last briefing to the media, we said that the enemy stopped west of Basra after having attacked the southern Al-Rumaylah oil fields. As we said during the briefing, the enemy forces had several alternatives when they arrived at the southern Al-Rumaylah oil field. It was either they move north or divert toward the Basra airport. To sum up the overall activities conducted in the past two days, the units of the criminal US enemy only arrived at the outskirts of Basra airport. Fierce battles were fought in the Al-Tubah area and then on the outskirts of Basra airport. Now they have a foothold in Basra airport. The fighting is still going on. Until this afternoon, the enemy pushed a number of tanks with the aim of targeting the highway that links Basra and the Abu Sukhayr bridge from the other direction until they reach the Basra-Baghdad highway. Our valiant sectors repelled the thrust and destroyed four enemy tanks that kept on burning until dust. Indistinct words This place is fortified. We expect the enemy to try once and again, but it will only capture it after paying a heavy price. The forces that fought the enemy units are those affiliated with the heroic III Corps, including the units of the 51st Division, which the enemy earlier claimed had surrendered, and other units from the heroic 18th Division. Those units also destroyed three enemy tanks which were left burning in place. All tribesmen and citizens in the area saw those burning tanks because they were close to the city.
The other sector in Basra is Al-Zubayr. The enemy tried to cross the Al-Zubayr bridges toward Basra. Our units stopped the enemy on the bridges. Today, they destroyed three enemy armored vehicles. In Al-Zubayr area, the party fighters and the tribesmen also burned two enemy tanks. The enemy tanks retreated. This is the situation in the Al-Zubayr sector and the area of Kuzayzah bridge which his excellency the minister of information spoke about this afternoon. The heroic 6th division also downed an enemy drone. Our situation in Basra, the city of Basra, is good, thanks to God. We are in our positions and on our land. The enemy's directions are quite known to us. God willing, we will fight in a manner that would please our friends and outrage the criminal enemies and Zionists. The morale of the tribes, army, and people are well-known, as you see. The tribesmen are using RPG's to fire at the enemy tanks. This is the standard we are talking about.
In the governorate of Dhi Qar and Al-Nasiriyah, we said in the last briefing that the enemy was on the outskirts of Al-Nasiriyah. The enemy tried to advance into Al-Nasiriyah from several directions. They tried to move from Tal al-Lahm toward the city. They made over three attempts in which they lost 17 armoured personnel carriers and tanks. They could not maintain contact with the city. In the Suq al- Shuyukh sector, the criminal enemy attacked the units of the third regiment of 47th Brigade. This regiment was attacked three times. The enemy lost two tanks in the first attempt, three in the second, and three in the last attempt. This regiment is still holding its position until this moment and is in very high morale. The enemy retreated for two km. When they could not achieve any progress in these two fronts, they went behind the city toward the desert and Al-Samawah. They passed by Ali Airforce Base. They kept moving toward Al-Samawah and were confronted by the city. They tried to enter Al-Samawah city, but the fighters of the party, the army units, and the tribesmen stopped the drive at the outskirts of the city. Also several vehicles of theirs were destroyed together with some tracked-vehicles. The enemy again went towards the desert and tried and did manage to pass by the city toward Al-Najaf.
The other activity is in the Nasiriyah sector. The enemy managed last night to bring their helicopters towards Al-Islah Junction. They dropped several armoured vehicles. But the party fighters and the tribesmen fought the enemy in this area and in Al-Jabayish area. The regular army units, the Al-Quds Army units, and the Arab tribesmen killed a number of the Americans, whose bodies were left and were not retrieved. Their bodies are still in an area near our units in Al- Khamisiyat area.
The Mid-Euphrates sector. It is under comrade Mizban Khadr Hadi's command. This sector also includes the governorates he is responsible for in accordance with the Revolution Command Council's decree. I have already spoken about the enemy's activity in Al-Muthanna Government, which is one of the governorates under commrade Hadi's command. I said that the enemy managed to reach the outskirts of the city and was faced by the fighters. The enemy could not achieve any progress all night long. But at dawn today, they went through the desert towards Al-Najaf desert. In Al-Najaf area, since yesterday, the enemy has had reconnaissance groups and managed to gain ground in Rahba area in Al-Najaf. But the enemies were resisted by our fighters, who managed to inflict damage on them and what was left of it retreated.
As for those units, which had gone around Al-Samawah, they are heading today towards Al-Najaf now. God willing, our fighters will stop the enemy. Today, the enemy lost three armoured personnel carriers and one helicopter.
The Western sector. Right from the beginning of fighting until now, the activities, as I said in the last briefing, are as follows: The enemy dropped small units that were protected by helicopters and air force. These groups move between Al-Nukhayb area in the south and our borders with Saudi Arabia. They also move between the north and the northwestern areas toward Al-Walid area and up to Al-Qa'im. The pattern of their activity is that they land in empty desert areas, but we have received information about them and inflicted damage on them more than once. They also lost contact, left the area, and went to other areas. This is not a difficult thing since the desert is wide open and clear.
As for the other operation sectors, the enemy has continued its bombardments using all equipment. The enemies themselves say they bombarded Baghdad with 1,000 Cruise missiles. Their air raids are continuing over all Iraqi cities, but large numbers of the enemy missiles were downed by our air defence units. Thank God, our air defence is effective and confronts all raids. God willing, all aircraft within range will be surely downed. What is more important than weapons, equipment, and all that has to do with material things is the fighters' combat spirit. The important thing is to have men who have the ability to carry their weapons having confidence that they can defeat the enemy with their weapons and knowing all the capabilities of the enemies' weapons. We beseech God Almighty first to keep our leader, the symbol of Iraq, who believes in God and that God Almighty will surely grant us victory because we are right and are fighting on our land. We have no ambitions in Britain or America and do not wish to fight the Americans or the English.
Simply speaking, we find no difficulty in trying to convince our fighters that this enemy is trying to occupy the country and that it has designs on our wealth, prodded by Zionist hate. We have no other choice but to fight the enemy. God willing, we will fight the enemy. And I would like to tell you one last word. We spoke about how the enemy managed to deploy over this large area. The US and British units have deployed all over the desert. We are fighting enemy forces in Umm Qasr, Basra, Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Samawah, Al-Najaf, and in every location they may reach. So far, the enemy has not surprised us with anything. The enemy's objective is well known. Whatever land the enemy occupies will not bring it closer to its objectives. The enemy had announced that it had a bigger objective and has already made it public. But we feel that the enemy will lose, for it does not itself believe in the objective it had set out to achieve. Where is the logic that makes the enemy cross continents to fight the Iraqis on their own land? With what logic are they trying to remove one ruler from here and impose another one? They should know that the people and all the Iraqis, tribesmen, fighters, and the party are united behind leader Saddam Husayn. You should see the Arab tribesman and the fighter who are carrying RPG-7 launchers and stopping the tanks with these launchers. Does this not suffice to show those who have a sick mentality that these are the Iraqis and that they love leader Saddam Husayn and their country? Those who are not convinced of their cause would not fight.
I thank you. I might have taken more of your time than I had wanted. But war has many surprises. We consider the worst scenarios in our calculations and behavior. Our situation is very good. Our morale is very high. Our performance in battle is very good. We the Iraqis do not like to speak much. The Iraqis could have made much of what happened in Umm Qasr. The United States and the British forces could not overrun one small battalion that was entrenched in Umm Qasr. But we are not talkative. Others would have spoken about this and would have published books on it. The fighters of the 3rd Regiment actually deserve such attention. Thank you very much...
BBC correspondent; in English with simultaneous translation into Arabic; translated from Arabic There have been many British and US reports claiming they are still in contact with Iraqi field commanders. They also claim that those commanders are ready to carry out acts as heard . This evening we saw on the television screens footage of some US prisoners. Will they be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention?
Ahmad I regret your calling those people commanders. In all lexicons of the world, whoever cooperates with the enemy is called a traitor. Would the Iraqis accept being ruled by a traitor?! Would the Iraqi citizen who is now carrying arms to fight America accept those whom you called commanders?! We are waiting for them, so let them come. We know them all very well. I can only say that whoever sells his country...
Iraqi Information Minister Al-Sahhaf; interrupting to correct the defence minister Actually, as part of the psychological warfare, they US-British forces say they are in contact with commanders. break in reception
Khomeini, may his soul rest in peace, as our leader says all the time, was under the illusion that the Iraqis would receive him with flowers when he came to Baghdad. The 45th and 47th Brigades received him as they have received US-British forces over the past four days.
As for prisoners, we have always been people of principle and values, even before the Geneva Convention, by which we abide. Our values, religion, morals, and principles make us treat prisoners as they should be treated; that is, as human beings.
Question; in English with simultaneous translation into Arabic, translated from Arabic How many prisoners are there and where will you hold them?
Ahmad Answer indistinct. ...
Question; in English with simultaneous translation into Arabic; translated from Arabic There was a report today on the shooting down of five US and British pilots. There were search operations in the afternoon. Other reports said some pilots landed with parachutes in that area. Could you please tell us if one or two pilots landed in that area?
Ahmad Once we get accurate information, we will make it available to the public. This is because the area where the planes are shot down is a combat zone, whether in the desert or in the city. It is not necessary to find the pilot still in the downed plane. We are searching. We will inform you as soon as we find anything...
Ali Jabir, Beirut Al-Manar Television correspondent Mr. Minister: You said that the enemy has not surprised the Iraqi forces with anything. On the other hand, the valiant Iraqi air defences have actually startled the world with their confrontation of the US warplanes and missiles, and have been able to shoot down many enemy aircraft and missiles. This means there has been a great progress in the Iraqi air defences. Do you have any further surprises for the enemy? Should we expect to see more enemy aircraft downed by the air defence forces in the next few days?
Ahmad Our surprise will be steadfastness, God willing, and the will to fight and the resolve to protect our country. This is what is going to surprise the enemy all the time, before weapons.
Al-Sahhaf One final question please. Majid from Al-Jazirah.
Al-Jazirah Television Correspondent Majid Abd-al-Hadi Mr. Minster: How do you explain the US and British forces' reluctance to enter the Iraqi major cities, specifically Basra, at the time when they were talking today that they are 100 km from Baghdad?
Ahmad Brother, you have already heard the briefing I have presented. You have heard how the enemy is encountering resistance and then swerving. We will not be surprised if they start saying tomorrow that they are within 200 km as heard or even if they say they can reach the north. But, in the end, where will they go? They will have to come to the city if they want to reach their objective. The city will, God willing, fight them. The land fights with its own people. We are the people of this land and we believe in God Almighty. Whoever falls martyr in this fight will have his family feel very proud of him. When we achieve victory, the good people will have their heads high. May God bless you. Thank you very much.
Copyright Iraqi TV and BBC Monitoring 2003. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .