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Iraqi officers arrested on negligence charges: Baghdad has disciplined army personnel for lack of zeal in the marshland offensive, writes Christopher Bellamy, Defence Correspondent

A number of senior Iraqi officers have been arrested for negligence during the continuing Iraqi Army attack on the southern marshlands, according to 'reliable sources' in the country.

Meanwhile, the strategic 'third river' - a canal between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers - is now complete and awaiting its formal opening. It will help drain the marshes further, making it easier for government troops to penetrate the area, although the Iraqi government says its prime role is to carry away salt water and make the land more fertile and suitable for agriculture.

British Tornado GR1 and GR1a reconnaissance planes continue to survey Iraqi activity around the marshes, south of the 32nd parallel. The RAF said the photographs and videos taken were still being analysed.

The reports from inside Iraq confirm those of Western intelligence, indicating a large-scale offensive - up to 70,000 Iraqi troops in 10 divisions from III, IV and VI Army Corps are believed to be involved. They confirm that several senior or front-line officers have been disciplined for insufficient zeal in prosecuting the campaign.

The third or 'Leader's' river was due to open at the end of August, and has been finished on time. An article in al-Jumhuriah newspaper on 20 May, by the Military Industrial Minister, Hussein Kamil Hassan - a brother-in-law of Saddam Hussein - described the project as 'drying the marshes by military industrialisation'.

The article included a map showing the precise course of the canal, which is 565km (350 miles) long, about 8 metres (24ft) deep, 90 metres (270ft) wide at the top, tapering to 36 metres (108ft) at the bottom. It begins at al- Mahmudiyah, 30km (19 miles) south of Baghdad and runs to al- Gurmah, near Basra, linking with another drainage project - the al- Is-Haqi, and discharging into the Basra river, which runs into the Gulf. Near its southern end, the canal pases through the Hawr al-Hammar marsh.

According to Raad Nadhum Muhammad, the Chief Engineer, 2 million cubic metres (6 million cubic feet) of earth had to be removed to cut the last five- kilometre (three-mile) section and five road bridges and one railway bridge had to be built over it.

The Organisation for Human Rights in Iraq, a London-based group of exiles, has named 19 officers and NCOs whom, they say, have been arrested or have disappeared according to 'reliable sources inside Iraq'. Many of those arrested are said to be held at the Istihkbarat - General Military Intelligence Services' - prison, Baghdad.

Brigadier Anwar Ismael Hentoosh, commander of the 2nd battalion, 34th Mechanised Division, was arrested on 9 July, charged with 'neglecting to execute the order to attack the marshes'.

Captain Hani Neser Ibrahim, commanding a unit from 82nd Division, was arrested the same day, charged with negligence in attacking an objective north of the al-Hammar marshes, near Nasiriyah.

Brigadier A'Amir Rashid Hassoon, commanding the medical services of the Iraqi IV Army Corps was arrested two days before, charged with 'negligence during his tour in al-Amarah marshes'.

Major Ghaffori Ahmed Ismael, commander of 3rd battalion, 92nd Division, was arrested on 17 July for 'negligence' during an attack on al-Amarah marshes and Capt Allawi Muhsin Qermoot, deputy commander of 2nd battalion, 82nd Division, was arrested

for the same alleged offence the same day.