Top Mahdi Army Militant Killed in Fighting With British

The leader of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Basra was killed Friday in a gunbattle with British soldiers, Iraqi police said.

Wissam al-Waili, 23, also known as Abu Qadir, was shot and killed along with his brother and two aides during the battle Friday afternoon, police said.

The Mahdi Army of radical Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr is fiercely opposed to the presence of U.S. and British troops in Iraq. However, the militia has lowered its profile since U.S.-led forces began a security crackdown in Baghdad in February.

The gunbattle Friday began about 4 p.m. when British forces attempted to arrest al-Waili after he left a mosque in Jumhoriyah a middle class, residential area in central Basra, police said. Al-Waili and his three companions opened fire and were killed in the subsequent gunbattle, police said.

British forces could not immediately be reached for comment.