SADDAM'S SOLDIERS SURRENDER Mar 9 2003 Mike Hamilton reports from Camp Coyote in Kuwait TERRIFIED Iraqi soldiers have crossed the Kuwait border and tried to surrender to British forces - because they thought the war had already started. The motley band of a dozen troops waved the white flag as British paratroopers tested their weapons during a routine exercise. The stunned Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade were forced to tell the Iraqis they were not firing at them, and ordered them back to their home country telling them it was too early to surrender. The drama unfolded last Monday as the Para batallion tested mortars and artillery weapons to make sure they were working properly. The Iraqis found a way across the fortified border, which is sealed off with barbed-wire fencing, watchtowers and huge trenches. A British Army source in Kuwait contacted me to explain how the extraordinary surrender bid unfolded. The source said: "The British guys on the front-line could not believe what was happening. They were on pre-war exercises when all of a sudden these Iraqis turned up out of nowhere, with their hands in the air, saying they wanted to surrender. "They had heard firing and thought it was the start of the war. "The Paras are a tough, battle-hardened lot but were moved by the plight of the Iraqis. There was nothing they could do other than send them back. "They were a motley bunch and you could barely describe them as soldiers - they were poorly equipped and didn't even have proper boots. Their physical condition was dreadful and they had obviously not had a square meal for ages. No one has ever known a group of so-called soldiers surrender before a shot has been fired in anger." Last night the Ministry of Defence officially denied the incident had taken place, but the story was corroborated by an intelligence source. Meanwhile Saddam Hussein has ordered thousands of troops back to Baghdad as he turns the city into a fortress. It is believed that two rings of steel are being established around Baghdad. The outer one consists of regular Iraqi army soldiers and the inner one is made up of Republican Guard fighters - thought to be the only troops that will put up fierce resistance.