updated 4/5/2007 6:45:42 AM ET 2007-04-05T10:45:42

Four British soldiers and a Kuwaiti interpreter were killed Thursday in an ambush in southern Iraq, the British military said.

The patrol struck a roadside bomb and was hit by small-arms fire about 2 a.m. in the Hayaniyah district west of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, British military spokeswoman Capt. Katie Brown said.

Another British soldier was seriously wounded, Brown said.

It was the biggest loss of life for British forces since Nov. 12, when four were killed in an attack on a Multi-National Forces boat patrol on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city.

Thursday’s deaths raised to 140 the number of British forces to die in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion and to 109 the number killed in combat.

Iraqi police officials in Basra said the British patrol had earlier detained 1st Lt. Haidar al-Jazaeri of the Interior Ministry’s Major Crimes unit, and were on their way back when they hit the roadside bomb. Gunmen then opened fire from three directions, causing more casualties, the officials said without providing a breakdown.

British troops backed by helicopters cordoned off the area for about two hours after the attack, the Iraqi officials said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced that Britain will withdraw about 1,600 troops from Iraq over the next few months and hopes to make other cuts to its 7,100-strong contingent by late summer.

Thursday’s attack also came as 15 British sailors and marines held captive for nearly two weeks left Iran aboard a commercial flight bound for London, ending a standoff that began when they were detained off the southern Iraqi coast. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced their surprise release on Wednesday.

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