Iraqi soldiers take positions in southern Iraq in this image from Iraqi TV.
British officers said the Basra uprising became enough of a threat that the militiamen fired mortars to try to suppress it. British forces then silenced the Iraqi mortar positions with an artillery barrage, spokesman Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt said.
McCourt said British troops also were firing at some of the militiamen who were trying to flee Basra.
Iraqi officials have denied there was any uprising in Basra.
The British — while awaiting an opportune moment to enter the heart of Basra — have been telling residents over loudspeakers that aid is waiting outside the city. Relief officials say many of the 1.3 million residents are drinking contaminated water and face the threat of diarrhea and cholera.
British forces staged a raid on a suburb of Basra, capturing a Baath party leader and killing 20 of his bodyguards, officials said.
Assigned to bring aid to another battle-scarred southern city, a seven-truck relief convoy — loaded with food and water — left Kuwait and reached the port of Umm Qasr today.
"We planned for 30 trucks but we only got seven loaded because of the severe sandstorm," said E.J. Russell of the Humanitarian Operations Center, a joint U.S.-Kuwaiti agency. The storm cut visibility to about 100 yards.
A handful of Iraqi children watched the convoy cross into Iraqi territory. One boy, about 10, pointed to his mouth and shouted, "Eat, eat!"
Plans to bring supplies to Iraqi civilians have been stalled for days because of fighting across southern Iraq.
U.S. officials have blamed Saddam's regime for slowing the
flow of aid by placing mines in Umm Qasr's harbor, which serves much of the south. U.S. Navy helicopters flew two dolphins into Umm Qasr to help locate mines.
U.S. units in central Iraq appear to be shifting their strategy because of the attacks from Iraqi militiamen. Instead of racing to Baghdad, some units are moving slower to clear out pockets of opposition.
"We're going into a hunting mode right now," said Lt. Col. B.T. McCoy of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. "We're going to start hunting down instead of letting them take the cheap shots."