Menu

ARCHIVE

British Pull Troops Off Basra's Streets

British troops in the tense southern city of Basra greatly reduced their presence in the streets Thursday, apparently responding to a call from the provincial governor to sever cooperation until London apologized for storming a police station to free two of its soldiers.

For the second day, no British forces were seen with accompanying Iraqi police on patrols of Basra, as they routinely had in the past.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb hit a U.S. convoy in southern Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding six others Wednesday. Suspected insurgents gunned down at least eight Iraqis in four separate attacks Thursday, officials said.

In an interview with Associated Press Television News in Baghdad Thursday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie (search) called Monday's attack by British forces on a police station in Basra "a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

At least five Iraqis were killed during a day of clashes between British forces and Iraqi police and demonstrators on Monday. British armor crashed into a jail to free the two soldiers who had been arrested by Iraqi police and militiamen. Earlier, a crowd attacked British troops with stones and Molotov cocktails.

The fighting has raised concern over the increasing boldness of Shiite militias in the south of the country and the challenge they pose to the 8,500-strong British force in the region.

As recently as Wednesday, Britain vowed to keep its troops in the country until they no longer are needed, but also has leaked information recently about planning for a troop reduction. The Shiite militias complicate the British role no matter which way it moves.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Iraqi civilians and policemen, some waving pistols and AK-47s, rallied in Basra (search), Iraq's second largest city, to denounce "British aggression" in the rescue of the two British soldiers.

Several hours after the protest, Basra's provincial council held an emergency meeting and voted unanimously "to stop dealing with the British forces in Basra and not to cooperate with them because of their irresponsible aggression on a government facility."

Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waili called the attack "barbaric" and a product of imperial arrogance. He declared an end to all cooperation with British forces unless Prime Minister Tony Blair's government apologized for the deadly clashes with Iraqi police.

Britain defended the raid.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) repeated assurances that the troubles in Basra would not cause a rift between the British contingent and the Iraqi security forces.

"I do not think that this will be an obstacle that cannot be overcome," al-Jaafari said Thursday at a Baghdad news conference after returning from Britain, where he and British Defense Secretary John Reid (search) sought to defuse tension.

Each side has offered contradictory accounts of the events on Monday, and the Iraqi prime minister said he would be meeting with British Ambassador William Patey to "look into what has happened."

Iraq's state minister for national security, Abdul Karim Al-Enizi (search), told reporters the Iraqi Cabinet has formed a committee to investigate Monday's violence.

The provisional council demanded that Britain apologize to Basra's citizens and police and provide compensation for the families of people killed or wounded in the violence. The council also said it would punish employees who had not tried to defend the Basra police station from the British military attack.

Before the recent volatility, the British had prided themselves on their good relations with Iraqi authorities.

In Baghdad on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier and wounded six in the Dora section, said Sgt. 1st Class David Abrams of the U.S. Army. The residential area of the capital has been the site of many attacks by insurgents against American forces and Iraqi police.

The U.S. military also said an American soldier died Wednesday night of injuries sustained in a vehicle accident near Kirkuk.

The two deaths raised the U.S. death toll since the start of the war to 1,909.

Near the northern city of Kirkuk, a bomb damaged an oil pipeline, sending plumes of black smoke and fire up into the air, officials said.

Elsewhere, unidentified men in a speeding car wielding machine guns killed local police commander Col. Fadil Mahmoud Mohammed and his driver Thursday morning near the city of Baquba north of Baghdad, police said.

Six people were killed in the capital, including a man and two of his sons whose home in the New Baghdad area was raided by about 25 gunmen dressed in police uniforms and black masks, said police Col. Ahmed Abod. A second son was kidnapped. Abod said the father, Muhsin Akmosh Al-Timimi, had been working with foreign companies operating in Iraq.

In another drive-by shooting Thursday, two policemen patrolling in northeast Baghdad were killed, said police Col. Ahmed al-Alawi.