Iraq shows 'captured' US pilots on TV

FILM footage of two men said to be the crew of a US Apache helicopter brought down in heavy fighting 50 miles south of Baghdad was shown on Iraqi TV tonight.

FILM footage of two men said to be the crew of a US Apache helicopter brought down in heavy fighting 50 miles south of Baghdad was shown on Iraqi TV tonight.

Wearing cream-coloured overalls the pair appeared confused and turned their heads, looking in different directions as the camera filmed them. Neither spoke.

The footage is sure to prompt further criticism from the coalition after the angry reaction when five US soldiers captured further south near Nasiriyah were paraded on television.

The allies said such TV appearances appeared to be in defiance of the Geneva Conventions which states PoWs must not be humiliated or degraded.

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Iraq's state television also showed a collection of documents arrayed on the floor. They included what looked like identification cards a Visa credit card and hand-written notes.

The cameraman also focused in on name badges sewn on to their uniforms.

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The New York Times reported today that Iraqi forces brought down two of the advanced Apache helicopters with small-arms fire and rocket propelled grenades.

Returning helicopter pilots likened the fierce fire they faced to a "hornet's nest".

One, two member crew was unaccounted for, the other was rescued.

Thirty to 40 of the attack helicopters had been involved in raids on Republican Guard positions south the capital as US ground forces charged 200 miles into enemy territory towards Baghdad.

Iraqi troops are facing a growing mass of allied troops preparing to take on the first heavily defended ring around the capital.

By late afternoon, the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division was moving on Karbala, only 50 miles south of the Iraqi capital, but was stalled by a sandstorm.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "It is a little way from there that they will encounter the Medina Division of the Republican Guard who are defending the route to Baghdad. This will be a crucial moment.'

Huge explosions were again reported tonight in Baghdad. Commanders had earlier said allied planes were due to fly more than 1,000 sorties today - 800 of them in the Baghdad area in a further bid to soften the positions of the Republican Guards.

But UK forces, particularly the Desert Rats around Basra in the south, faced resistance with some being forced to withdraw.

British forces also suffered their first known death in action after a soldier was killed near Al Zubayr, a few miles to the south west of Iraq's second city. Military officials said the next of kin had been informed.

Efforts were also being made to locate and recover two other British soldiers, who went missing in action in the Al Zubayr area after their Army Land Rover was ambushed by Iraqi fighters using a rocket-propelled grenade.

The British soldier died after being shot as he tried to calm rioting Iraqi civilians, pool reporter Martin Bentham, of the Sunday Telegraph reported tonight.

He said the man, who has not been named, was shot on Sunday evening and died from his wounds early today.

Officers said that the shooting occurred during a "civil disturbance in the Basra area' but declined to give further details.

Today's fatality brings the British death toll to 17 - eight Royal Marines died when a helicopter crashed in Kuwait last week, six servicemen were killed when two helicopters collided over the Gulf and two were killed yesterday when their Tornado was brought down by "friendly fire' from a US Patriot missile battery.

US Army Colonel Tim Glaeser, in charge of the Patriot batteries that defend Kuwait, made a personal visit today to the Tornado base at Ali Al Salem to apologise to the RAF detachment commander, Group Captain Simon Dobb, and to pass on his condolences to the families of the dead pilot and navigator.

British commanders are considering calling in paratroopers and drawing on the experience of Royal Marine Commandos in urban warfare to assist the battle for Basra after accepting that it might be necessary to engage in street combat to secure the city.

At one point, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, one of four Desert Rats battle groups, was forced to retreat about 10 miles to avoid a potential ambush by Republican Guards, who were reported to be heading out of Basra in civilian clothes in an attempt to kill or capture British troops in a surprise attack.

British artillery shells were later fired into the city, where 1,000 Iraqi fighters are believed to be sheltering, some using civilian buildings as bases.

Some of the strongest resistance in Basra came from the Fedayeen militia and security services.

Some tried to lure leading British infantry into a false sense of security by flying white flags of surrender before opening fire. They also used women and children as decoys.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told MPs this afternoon: "Basra is surrounded and cannot be used as an Iraqi base. But in Basra there are pockets of Saddam's most fiercely loyal security services who are holding out.

"They are contained but still able to inflict casualties on our troops and so we are proceeding with caution. Basra international airport has been made secure.'

Mr Blair said key oil installations on the Al Faw peninsula were now secure and the port of Umm Qasr "despite continuing pockets of resistance is under allied control but the waterway essential for humanitarian aid may be blocked by mines and will take some days to sweep'.

As Iraq issued a fresh video of defiance by Saddam, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the broadcast was not live and did not "unambiguously' refer to contemporary events.

The Defence Secretary said: "What I can say straight away is that those pictures were not live and therefore clearly there is still the possibility of Saddam Hussein's people issuing tape recordings.

"We are well aware that he has spent many hours recently tape recording various messages, so we have to do a little more analysis of what was actually said.'

Saddam insisted in the broadcast that the coalition campaign was "in trouble' and urged his people to struggle towards a "harvest of victory and glory'.

Meanwhile, a small number of injured British soldiers have been flown out of Iraq to Cyprus for treatment before being brought home to the UK, the Ministry of Defence confirmed today.

No details were being given of the exact numbers of troops involved or the nature of their injuries.

But British military officials at the RAF station at Akrotiri on the Mediterranean island denied local press reports that bodies of British servicemen killed in the war had also been brought to the base.

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