BAGHDAD, Iraq — Roadside bombs exploded near three U.S. convoys in and around Baghdad on Wednesday, wounding two soldiers, an official said. The attacks came one day after the death toll for U.S. forces rose to more than 1,900 since the Iraq invasion.
In the southern city of Basra, two Iraqi citizens who were wounded in clashes between British forces and Iraqi police died in a hospital Wednesday, raising the civilian death toll to five, police said. The fighting occurred Monday when British forces stormed a Basra jail to free two British soldiers who had been arrested by Basra police.
During the raid, British forces learned that Shiite Muslim militiamen and police had just moved the two men to a nearby house. The British then stormed that house and rescued the men. Since then, British and Iraqi officials have criticized each other about attack, and police gathered on Wednesday morning to stage a protest against British forces.
U.S. convoys under attack
In the worst attack on U.S. forces Wednesday, a roadside bomb exploded as a U.S. military convoy drove through the Abu Ghraib area on the western outskirts of Baghdad, leaving two soldiers with minor wounds, said U.S. Lt. Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. army.
Iraqi police 1st Lt. Mohammed Khayon said the U.S. forces then opened fire on people in the area, wounding an Iraqi civilian, but Davis couldn’t confirm that.
Roadside bombs also exploded Wednesday near two other U.S. convoys in southwestern Baghdad and in the Taji area north of the capital. No soldiers were wounded, Davis said.
Mechanical problems forced a U.S. Army Apache helicopter to make an emergency landing about 30 miles outside the northern city of Mosul. No one was injured.
On Monday, a Diplomatic Security agent attached to the State Department and three private American security guards were killed when their convoy was hit by a suicide car bomber in Mosul, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said. The four were attached to the U.S. Embassy’s regional office in Mosul.
Names of the victims were not released in Baghdad, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a statement issued in New York, identified the Diplomatic Security officer as Stephen Eric Sullivan. His age and address were not given.
The latest American deaths, which raised the overall toll to 1,907, also included a soldier from the 18th Military Police Brigade killed in a roadside bombing 75 miles north of the capital Tuesday, the military said.
On Monday, four soldiers attached to the U.S. Marines died in two roadside bombings near the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. They were attached to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Three soldiers died Friday, but their deaths weren’t announced until Tuesday.
In Basra, British and Iraqi forces continued to disagree about what had happened there.
Row over U.K. jail break
British Defense Minister John Reid said his forces in the southern city, where most British forces in Iraq are based, were “absolutely right” to act. But a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the operation was “very unfortunate.”
Britain’s Foreign Office later released a statement it said was from al-Jaafari’s office, insisting there is no crisis in relations between the two countries.
After British armored vehicles stormed the jail to free two commandos, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite who serves as Iraq’s national security adviser, said the operation was “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”
British forces used armor to bash their way into the jail compound late Monday after a day of turmoil that erupted with the arrest of the two commandos.
At first, Basra police said the men shot and killed a policeman, but on Tuesday the al-Jaafari spokesman, Haydar al-Abadi, said the men — who were wearing civilian clothes — were grabbed for behaving suspiciously and collecting information.
The British said the men had been handed over to a militia. The Basra governor confirmed the claim, saying the Britons were in the custody of the al-Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
“The two British were being kept in a house controlled by militiamen when the rescue operation took place,” said the governor, Mohammed al-Waili.
“Police who are members of the militia group took them to a nearby house after jail authorities learned the facility was about to be stormed,” he said, demanding that the Britons be handed over to local authorities for trial. He would not say what charges they might face.
Officials in Basra, refusing to be named because they feared for their lives, said at least 60 percent of the police force there is made up of Shiite militiamen from one of three groups: the Mahdi Army; the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution; and Hezbollah in Iraq, a small group based in the marshlands in the south.
All militia have deep historical, religious and political ties to Iran, where many Shiite political and religious figures took refuge during the rule of Saddam Hussein.
While about 135,000 U.S. troops operate throughout Iraq, the 8,500 British forces are headquartered in the Basra region.
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