BAGHDAD, Iraq – A British foot patrol came under attack in the southern city of Amarah on Saturday, sparking a seven-and-a-half-hour gunbattle with insurgents in the city center that left five Iraqis dead and six British soldiers injured, witnesses and a British forces spokesman said.
Witnesses said the five Iraqis killed were members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's (search) al-Mahdi Army. The bodies of the dead were brought to al-Sadr's office in the town, they said.
The clashes were ongoing Saturday night, said British Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Jonathan Arnold (search), a military spokesman. He confirmed the six British wounded but had no information on Iraqi deaths.
"There is some ongoing unrest in the city right now. There are ongoing follow-up operations going on now," Arnold said.
Witnesses said insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at a British base Saturday night, and British soldiers lobbed flares into the night sky to illuminate — and fire upon — attackers' positions.
The clashes started just after midday, when a British army foot patrol responding to gunfire came under attack and one of its soldiers was wounded, Arnold said.
Five more troops among a force trying to recover the wounded soldier were also wounded, Arnold said by telephone from British forces headquarters in the southern city of Basra (search). Witnesses said two British trucks were burned in the fighting.
Arnold said he had no word of injured or killed among the Iraqis fighting British troops.
"It is very difficult for us to get any firm estimate of the enemy casualties," Arnold said. "The enemy body count is not our priority."
Last month, fighting in Amarah between al-Sadr's followers and British troops killed 15 Iraqis and wounded eight.
In March, seven British soldiers were wounded in a three-hour firefight with unknown attackers in Amarah, coalition officials said. Three Iraqis were killed, British officials said.
The nearby Shiite Muslim town of Majar al-Kabir, 25 miles southwest of Amarah, saw clashes between Iraqis and British soldiers in June in which six Britons and at least five Iraqi civilians were killed.