Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Basra incident raises tensions with Britain

`FLAGRANT VIOLATION' A provincial governor in Iraq has called for severing cooperation with London until an apology is made for storming a police station


British troops in Basra greatly reduced their presence in the streets yesterday, 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 in a row, no British forces were seen accompanying Iraqi police on patrols of Basra, as they routinely had in the past.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb hit a US convoy in southern Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding six, and suspected insurgents gunned down at least eight Iraqis in four separate attacks yesterday, officials said.

Yesterday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie called Monday's attack by British forces on a police station in Basra "a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

The fighting also raised new concerns about the power that radical Shiite militias with close ties to Iran have developed in the region around the southern city of Basra, questions about the role of Britain's 8,500-strong force in Iraq and doubts about the timetable for handing over power to local security forces.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Iraqi civilians and policemen, some waving pistols and AK-47s, rallied in Basra to denounce "British aggression" in the rescue of two British soldiers.

Basra Governor Mohammed al-Waili, who has called the attack "barbaric" and a product of imperial arrogance, threatened to end all cooperation with British forces unless Prime Minister Tony Blair's government apologized for the deadly clash with Iraqi police.

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

Britain defended the raid.

There has been disagreement about just what happened late Monday, when British armor crashed into a jail to free two British soldiers who had been arrested by Iraqi police and militiamen. Earlier that day, a crowd attacked British troops with stones and Molotov cocktails. At least five Iraqis were killed in the violence and others wounded, police said.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari 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 yesterday at a Baghdad news conference after returning from Britain, where he and British Defense Secretary John Reid sought to defuse tension.

The prime minister said he would be meeting with British Ambassador William Patey to "look into what has happened."

For his part, al-Jaafari said, "I will look closely at this matter, at what has really happened concerning the British side and the Iraqi side."

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

But 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.

The unanimous vote threatened to worsen the increasingly volatile atmosphere in Basra, where the British had prided themselves on their good relations with the Iraqi authorities.

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