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'iraq Using Human Shields'

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Iraqi paramilitaries are using civilians as human shields, Sky News has learnt.

Militiamen facing besieging British troops outside Basra are forcing locals to march in front of them as they fire on soldiers, UK forces claim.

Up to 1,000 Iraqi irregulars are thought to be in Basra standing firm against the British troops now responsible for fighting in southern Iraq.

Emma Hurd, who is at the UK forces' base in northern Iraq, was told British troops were struggling to break the stand-off because of the tactic.

"Irregular forces are using civilians as human shields," she said.

"Men with guns advance out of the city with civilians in front of them towards the British forces.

"These civilians are being forced into this.

The men are firing on the troops and they are unable to return fire.

"The stand-off continues."

Pockets of resistance are continuing in the southern Iraqi city, which is home to some 1m people.

But British commanders insist UK forces are not about to go in and take out the paramilitaries.

Meanwhile, British forces have destroyed up to seven Iraqi tanks on the edge of Basra.

Captain Alan Massey, of the flagship aircraft carrier Ark Royal, said British light tanks, helped by small helicopter gunships and surveillance helicopters, had been battling a breakout by up to 50 Iraqi tanks.

They were trying to press southwards from the edge of the city, he said.

British forces have surrounded Basra and secured its airport.

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