BASRA, Sept 21: Iraqi police staged an angry anti-British protest in Basra on Wednesday as London and Baghdad sought to quell tension over a British raid to free soldiers held by militiamen in the southern city.
About 200 policemen, who work at the police station damaged during the British raid, marched through the streets, calling for the city police chief to be fired and for the “British terrorists” to be returned to Iraqi jurisdiction.
The Iraqi government said in a statement there was no crisis with Britain, but senior Iraqi officials have castigated the raid, with Basra province governor calling it a “barbaric act”.
“Both governments are in close contact, and an inquiry will be conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior into the incident,” a statement from Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s office said. It also urged calm on all sides.
Jaafari, returning from New York, was due to meet British Defence Secretary John Reid in London at around 1300 GMT.
Mr Reid, under pressure at home over the deployment of 8,500 troops in Iraq and facing calls for a withdrawal timetable, told a British newspaper Britain would not “cut and run”.
The diplomatic hitch follows a raid by British forces to free two undercover soldiers who were detained by Iraqi security forces in Basra following a firefight on Monday.
In the raid, British armoured vehicles crushed the walls of an Iraqi jail before troops rescued the men from a militia group said by the British to have gained custody of them from police.
But Iraq’s interior minister disputed the British military’s account. Bayan Jabor told BBC that the men had never left police custody or the jail in Basra and were not handed to militants.
Basra, a mainly Shia Muslim city, has experienced a surge in militia activity over the past nine months, with armed Shia factions vying for influence in the security forces and the local council.—Reuters