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Home >> World
UPDATED: 10:51, September 22, 2005
UK, Iraq play down jail raid dispute
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Iraqi police staged an angry anti-British protest in Basra Wednesday as London and Baghdad sought to quell tension over a British raid to free two undercover soldiers held in the southern city.

About 200 policemen who work at the police station and jail 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.

British forces raided the jail to free two undercover soldiers who were detained by Iraqi security forces following a firefight on Monday. In the raid, British armoured vehicles crushed the walls of the jail before troops rescued the men.

The British said the men were held by a militia group who had gained custody of them from police.

But Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabor told the BBC the men had never left police custody, and were not handed to militants.

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."

In London, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari met Defence Secretary John Reid to discuss the incident and afterwards the two told reporters diplomatic ties had not been harmed.

"It will not affect the relationship between Iraq and Britain," said Reid, who is under pressure over the deployment of 8,500 troops and has faced calls for a withdrawal timetable.

Asked if British troops should not immediately withdraw, Reid referred the question to Jaafari, who said they should not.

Reid said Britain had not changed its plan to keep its troops in Iraq until Iraqi security forces were strong enough to maintain security without them.

"We will not cut and run. We will not leave the job half done," Reid said. "We will stand by Iraq when times are tough and we will be a committed friend, not a fair weather friend."

The Iraqi prime minister, returning from New York, said he did not know the details about the raid, but said an investigation had been launched and would establish the facts.

Iraq's National Security Adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, said the investigation would focus on whether the two British men were in fact handed over to a militia group and whether they were found in an annexe to the jail or a private house.

Basra, a mainly Shi'ite Muslim city, has experienced a surge in militia activity over the past nine months, with armed Shi'ite factions vying for influence in the security forces and the local council.

The militias are also believed to have carried out attacks on British troops, three of whom have been killed by roadside bombs this month, and on journalists exposing their activities.

Iraqi authorities admitted that insurgents had infiltrated the police and other security forces in Basra and elsewhere.

"Our Iraqi security forces in general, and these in particular and in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit that they have been penetrated by some of the insurgents," Rubaie told the BBC on Tuesday.

He said he did not know the extent of the infiltration, but said new procedures were in place to get rid of bad apples.

British commander Colonel Bill Dunham, chief of staff for multinational forces in Basra, also pointed to security force infiltration as a major problem. "It is something that affects the Iraqi police across Iraq as a whole," he told BBC Radio.

"We are aware of rogue elements in the Iraqi police service. The trick that we have to pull off now with the Iraqi authorities is to identify those elements, to weed them out and to reinforce the good parts of the Iraqi police service."

Source: China Daily

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