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Basra crisis talks as tensions rise { September 21 2005 }

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September 21, 2005
Basra crisis talks as tension rises over civilian deaths
By Philippe Naughton, Times Online

Ibrahim Jaafari, the Iraqi Prime Minister, will visit London today for urgent talks on the growing unrest facing British forces in southern Iraq.

Mr Jaafari will stop off on his way back from a United Nations meeting in New York to see John Reid, the Defence Secretary, just two days after UK troops blasted into a Basra jail and militia house to free two captured SAS soldiers.

Top of the agenda will be the infiltration of the Iraqi police by insurgent militias, a problem highlighted by the Basra incident and openly admitted yesterday by a senior Iraqi official.

Dr Mouwafak al-Rubaie, Iraq's National Security Adviser, told BBC Two's Newsnight: "Our Iraqi security forces in general, police in particular, in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit, have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists as well.

"I can't deny this. We are putting in place a very scrupulous, very meticulous vetting procedure in the process of recruiting a new batch of police and Iraqi army, which will, if you like, clean our security forces as well as stop any penetration in future from the insurgents and terrorists."

Mr al-Rubaie added: "I can't give you a percentage of the extent of the penetration, but I have to admit that the Iraqi security forces are penetrated, to what extent I don't know."

A senior military source has told The Times that British troops stormed the police compound in Basra on Monday night because they feared that the two SAS soldiers, captured after a shoot-out with an Iraqi police patrol, were in danger of being summarily executed.

"The intelligence we had received left us in no doubt that these men were going to be killed," the source said.

The UK force used Warrior armoured fighting vehicles to smash through the wall of the compound - although the action appears to have been largely a diversion for a simultaneous SAS assault on a nearby villa where the two men had already been taken by local militiamen.

The rescuers, from the same squad as the two captured men, used plastic explosives to blow out the doors and windows of the suburban villa before hurling stun grenades at the militamen guarding the two commandos.

Tensions were still high in the southern city this morning after the death in hospital of two civilians wounded in Monday's clashes between UK forces and an angry mob. The deaths brought the civilian death toll to five.

Around 500 demonstrators, including many police officers in uniform, gathered outside Basra police headquarters, shouting "No to occupation!" and carrying banners demanding that the two SAS men - accused of killing an Iraqi police officer before their capture - be tried in Iraq as terrorists.

The demonstrators handed in a list of demands to police headquarters, including the soldiers’ return, compensation for damage to the police station in the raid and the resignation of Basra’s police chief - who they accused of being a British agent.

UK troops who patrol the port city kept out of sight during the demonstration. "The British promised us sovereignty. So where is this sovereignty if they destroy a police station?" one protester asked.

Colonel Bill Dunham, the chief of staff for the multinational force in Basra, said today that the problem of insurgents infiltrating the Iraqi security forces was "something that affects the Iraqi police across Iraq as a whole".

"We will be looking to work with the Iraqi authorities to address this acknowledged problem and take the issue forward."

Colonel Dunham told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "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."

The capture of the two SAS men on Monday came just a day after British forces in Basra arrested two leading members of the outlawed Mahdi Army, which is loyal to firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and is widely believed to have heavily infiltrated the local Iraqi police.

The two arrested men from the Mahdi Army were the group's Basra area commander, Sheikh Ahmad Majid al-Fartusi, and his aide Sajjat al-Basri.

One Iraqi member of parliament said that following the arrest of the SAS men, the Mahdi Army had tried to take them hostage to exchange them for its two leaders.

A spokesman for Mr Jaafari said the British operation against the jail had been "a very unfortunate development", but his office later released a statement saying there was no crisis in relations with the British.

Iraqi policemen at the jail yesterday surveyed a mass of rubble, broken plywood and air conditioning units where their perimeter wall and a number of prefabricated structures once stood. Several flattened cars appeared to have been run over by the Warrior fighting vehicles.

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Basra crisis talks as tensions rise { September 21 2005 }
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Bbc article twists truth and blames insurgents { September 21 2005 }
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