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British troops less visible in Basra after violence

British troops in Basra greatly reduced their presence in the streets Thursday, apparently responding to a governor’s call to sever cooperation until London apologized for storming a police station to free two soldiers.
A British tank drives past an Iraqi poli
A British tank drives past an Iraqi policeman in the southern city of Basra on Thursday. Local authorities in southern Iraq said they want little contact with the British after forces stormed a jail to release two of their men.Essam Al-sudani / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

British troops in the tense southern city of Basra greatly reduced their presence in the streets Thursday, apparently responding to a provincial governor’s call to sever cooperation until London apologized for storming a police station to free two of its soldiers.

For the second day, 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 U.S. convoy in southern Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding six others; a car bomb wounded another American soldier outside the capital; and suspected insurgents gunned down at least eight Iraqis in four separate attacks Thursday, officials said.

In an interview with Associated Press Television News in Baghdad on Thursday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie called Monday’s attack by British forces on a Basra police station “a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

At least five Iraqis were killed during Monday clashes between British forces and Iraqi police and demonstrators. British armor crashed into a jail to free the two soldiers arrested by Iraqi police and militiamen. Earlier, a crowd attacked British troops with stones and Molotov cocktails.

The fighting has raised concern about the increasing boldness of Shiite militias in the south and the challenge they pose to the 8,500-strong British force there. As recently as Wednesday, Britain vowed to keep its troops in the country until they no longer were needed, but recently leaked information said it also was planning a troop reduction. The Shiite militias complicate the British role no matter which way it moves.

Harsh words and rallies
On Wednesday, hundreds of Iraqi civilians and policemen, some waving pistols and AK-47s, rallied in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, to denounce “British aggression” in the rescue of the two British soldiers.

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

Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waili called the attack “barbaric” and a product of imperial arrogance. He declared an end to all cooperation with British forces unless Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government apologized for the deadly clashes with Iraqi police.

Britain defended the raid.

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 Thursday at a Baghdad news conference after returning from Britain, where he and British Defense Secretary John Reid sought to defuse tension.

Each side has offered contradictory accounts of Monday’s events, and al-Jaafari said he would be meeting with British Ambassador William Patey to “look into what has happened.”

Syria criticized
Al-Jaafari also again criticized Syria for doing too little to control its border with Iraq.

“The restoration and improvement of Iraqi-Syrian relations depends specifically on Syria’s commitment and cooperation in securing the border,” he said.

The United States and Baghdad repeatedly have accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross the border to join the Iraqi insurgency and providing sanctuary for militants operating inside Iraq.

Syria says it is doing all it can to control the frontier and denies giving comfort to insurgents or foreign fighters.

Iraq’s state minister for national security, Abdul Karim Al-Enizi, said the Iraqi Cabinet has formed a committee to investigate Monday’s violence in Basra.

The provisional council demanded that Britain apologize to Basra’s citizens and police and provide compensation for the families of people killed or wounded. The council also said it would punish employees who did not defend the Basra police station from the British military attack.

Before the recent volatility, the British had prided themselves on their good relations with Iraqi authorities.

U.S. soldier killed
In Baghdad on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier and wounded six in the Dora section, said Sgt. 1st Class David Abrams of the U.S. Army. The residential area of the capital has been the site of many attacks by insurgents against American forces and Iraqi police.

The U.S. military also said an American soldier died Wednesday night of injuries sustained in a vehicle accident near Kirkuk.

The two deaths raised the U.S. death toll since the war started in March 2003 to 1,909, according to an Associated Press count.

Also Thursday, a bomb hidden in a parked car exploded near a U.S. military convoy on a road about 11 miles south of Baghdad, slightly wounding one soldier, Abrams said.

Near the northern city of Kirkuk, a bomb damaged an oil pipeline, sending plumes of black smoke and fire up into the air, officials said.

Elsewhere, unidentified men in a speeding car wielding machine guns killed local police commander Col. Fadil Mahmoud Mohammed and his driver Thursday morning near Baquba, north of Baghdad, police said.

Six people were killed in the capital, including a man and two of his sons whose home in the New Baghdad area was raided by about 25 gunmen dressed in police uniforms and black masks, said police Col. Ahmed Abod. A second son was kidnapped.

Abod said the father, Muhsin Akmosh Al-Timimi, had been working with foreign companies operating in Iraq.

Also, two policemen patrolling northeast Baghdad were killed in a separate drive-by shooting, police Col. Ahmed al-Alawi said.