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WAR IN IRAQ DAY 18: IRAQ BEASTS HANG KIDS; Children butchered in front of parents for talking to soldiers.

BARBARIC members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party have tortured and killed dozens of innocent children, leaving their tiny bodies hung from street lighting, it was claimed last night.

Children as young as four years-old were taken from their parents during the night and murdered after extremists targeted families thought to have been aiding coalition forces.

Some children were hung as their helpless parents were forced to watch.

The atrocity came to light during a water aid drop on the outskirts of Basra, Iraq's second largest city and Ba'ath party stronghold.

An interpreter formerly attached to the UN learnt of the sickening murders as she helped to distribute aid.

Vanessa Lough, 37, originally from Orange in southern France, said: 'Three women, one of whose niece was killed, told me what happened.

'In one street alone, they said three children could at one point be seen hanging from the lamp posts and around the corner one child lay burnt on the road.

'Those parents and children who resisted were badly beaten.

'The women said some of the children's bodies are now being held in the city's hospital mortuary.'

Vanessa said that at first the three women, all middle-aged, were reluctant to talk about what they had seen for fear of persecution.

'They were genuinely afraid for their lives,' she added. 'From what I can gather they knew of at least 11 deaths but said they were many more elsewhere in the city.

'One of the ladies said Ba'ath party leaders and several henchmen had ordered and carried out the killings after their headquarters were bombed last week.

'It was their way of getting back.

'One of the men told a father his son was being killed because he (the father) had been seen laughing with several men from the British army that day.

'They told him he had betrayed Saddam in an act of treason.

'He received a broken leg and a severe beating. Then the men made the father watch as they set his son alight with petrol.'

The women told Vanessa that the attacks had taken place over the past two weeks.

Since the outbreak of war 18 days ago, leaders of the Ba'ath party are alleged to have targeted several hundred families who were known to be openly against Saddam.

In Al Zubayr, just six miles south-west of Basra, Iraqi extremists opened fire on civilians collecting water from British troops.

The president's men, hiding in a disused school, followed a number of locals after they had picked up aid in the town centre.

Once out of sight of the coalition forces, they began indiscriminately shooting at those who had accepted help. One of those targeted, Samir Adjwah, last night expressed his relief at surviving the attack.

Speaking from his hospital bed, the 27 year-old driver said: 'I had just collected my water . As I walked home, a car pulled up alongside of me. Two men were sat in the front and one in the back.

'I thought when they pulled up they were asking for directions because the car was not local to the area - but as they got close, the man in the back pulled out a pistol and fired two shots.

'The first destroyed my water can but the second hit me in the left side of my stomach. I fell to the ground and they shouted 'Never betray Saddam. Keep away from those soldiers'.'

THE commander ofBritain's Desert Rats declared last night that the Iraqi regime in Basra was 'on the run' as his troops continued their push into the city.

Brigadier Graham Binnssaid: 'I don't want to be over optimistic because it is a city of 1.3 million, which is the size of Birmingham squeezed into Derby, but we are pressing forward in all directions.

'I am very happy with the way it is going.'

The commanding officer of the 7th Armoured Brigade said that the ability of Saddam Hussein's paramilitaries to coerce the population of Basra into fighting was 'evaporating', and predicted that their 'days are limited'.

His assessment was delivered only hours after reports in Arab papers that the Ba'ath party in Basra was preparing to surrender as soon as Baghdad is taken.

CAPTION(S):

TERROR... children in Basra are being targeted by Saddam's henchmen
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 6, 2003
Words:713
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