Fri, Jun 27, 2003 - Page 6 News List

British forces in Iraq hunting for soldiers' killers

ALARM The mob attack on UK troops shattered the peace that had reigned in southern Iraq and spurred authorities to reconsider their approach to governing


British forces occupying southern Iraq agreed June 23 to stay out of Majar al-Kabir for 60 days and allow local security forces to seize heavy weapons, said Fadhel Radi, a municipal judge and an adviser to the mayor.

Radi said the British violated the agreement by coming into the city, sparking the initial demonstration. He produced a handwritten agreement in English and Arabic that was supposedly signed by a British military officer.

However, Hardy said she had no information about any such agreement and said it was "highly unlikely" it was valid. British officials said the military police were helping to train local police.

Southern Iraq had been so quiet recently that British troops frequently patrolled without helmets or flak jackets.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers that the region around Amarah was tense because British soldiers had tried to disarm Iraqis who routinely carried weapons, including machine guns.

"There have been problems in relation to that and that may form part of the background to it," he said.

British forces in Iraq have been reduced from 45,000 during the war to 15,500 now, two-thirds of them ground forces. The US has brought home some 130,000 troops from the region; 146,000 American forces remain in Iraq.

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