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British commandos fired on iraqi police { September 19 2005 }

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Shiite Militia, British Soldiers Clash
By Borzou Daragahi
Times Staff Writer

8:23 PM PDT, September 19, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Violent street clashes erupted Monday between Shiite militia and British soldiers in the southern city of Basra, after British tanks stormed a local jail where two of their troops were being held.

The daylong violence in Iraq's second-largest city raised troubling questions about the relationship between British forces in charge of security and their Iraqi counterparts, in what once was considered a relatively safe area of the country.

The clashes, which involved members of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al Mahdi army, apparently began when British commandos fired on Iraqi police, who took them into custody.

Tanks then bore down on the jail, knocking down a wall before the men were freed -- along with dozens of other detainees who took advantage of the chaos to escape, according to local reports and news agency accounts.

Two Iraqis were reportedly killed in the clashes, and several British soldiers were wounded.

Television images of the street fighting showed Iraqis firebombing a tank, and a British soldier emerging with his uniform in flames. The British Broadcasting Corp. reported the soldier was treated for minor injuries.

As night fell Monday, confusion and chaos dominated Basra's city center. Residents huddled in their homes reported gunfire and tank maneuvers.

Though Basra has not suffered the same level of violence as other cities in Iraq -- such as Fallouja, Samarra and the capital -- residents say peace has come at a cost. Armed militiamen rule the streets, enforcing perceived infractions of Islamic law with beatings and even killings, residents say.

In the once cosmopolitan city, women no longer can go unveiled on the streets, and physicians have been beaten for treating female patients.

The militias have also infiltrated the police, taking orders from clerics instead of commanders. When the Basra police chief acknowledged this spring that he'd lost control of his 13,000-strong force to Shiite Muslim militiamen, he was quickly removed from his job.

"The shift in Basra's situation from calmness to disorder is because of the authorities here," said Abid Sayid Mohammed Samad, 52, a Basra auto mechanic. "All are affiliated with different entities and blocs, and this rivalry among parties has undermined the security situation."

The clashes followed the discovery Monday of the body of Fakhr Haidar al-Tamimi, 38, a journalist and father of three who worked for local TV and radio, as well as The New York Times, the Guardian in London, National Geographic and other publications, according to the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

His death brought the toll for journalists or media workers in Iraq to 68 since the conflict began in 2003 -- five more than were killed in 20 years of covering the conflict in Vietnam, according to Reporters without Borders, a Paris-based advocacy group. Two thirds of those killed were Iraqis, the group said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists put the death toll at 55.

After enjoying a brief flowering of freedom and opportunities in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraqi journalists live in fear for their lives and rarely admit their profession in public.

"All the media people are now targeted and vulnerable simply because they convey the truth," said Nadhem Jabari, spokesman for the Basra provincial council. "We know very well that the truth would embarrass and many people."

Because of threats to Western reporters, much of the street-level reporting has been done by local Iraqi journalists, who file reports to all major media, including the Los Angeles Times.

It was unclear if Tamimi was targeted for his work with Western or local media.

"Covering this war is a perilous assignment for all journalists, but the gravest risk falls on those whose country is the battleground and whose lives are inextricable from the society," Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said in the announcement.

"We're all in shock about Fakher's death," said Robert F. Worth, a Baghdad-based New York Times correspondent. "He was a wonderful colleague, gentle and brave and resourceful. He had a great sense of humor. We will miss him."

Elsewhere, Iraq's steady tempo of bloodshed continued, with at least 11 other Iraqis killed in politically motivated violence.

Near Baghdad on Monday, at least eight Iraqi police commandos, an Iraqi soldier and a civilian were killed and 12 others injured in car bombings at two checkpoints beyond the city's southern edge.

The attacks, in Mahmoudiya and Latifiya, were launched within the perilous cluster of small towns and palm groves south of Baghdad known as the "triangle of death." Authorities have tightened security in the area as pilgrims head on foot toward the holy city of Karbala for an annual Shiite religious ceremony.

In Baqouba, a turbulent city of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds 40 miles north of the capital, the provincial governor escaped an assassination attempt that injured three of his guards while an explosion targeting a group of day laborers left one civilian killed. U.S. forces in the northern city of Mosul killed two suspected insurgents and detained three in early morning raids. The men were "suspected of having senior al-Qaeda in Iraq connections," the military announced.

Staff writer Louise Roug in Baghdad and special correspondents in Basra and Baqouba contributed to this report.

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British commandos fired on iraqi police { September 19 2005 }
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British free 76 iraqis from basra police head quarters { December 26 2006 }
British soldiers dressed like arabs fired on police patrol { September 19 2005 }
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British special services men dressed as arab men
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British vehicles cash into basra jail { September 19 2005 }
Brits abandon burning tank { August 2005 } [jpg]
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Brits equipment confiscated [jpg]
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Captured brits footage still [jpg]
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Confiscated from two british soldiers2 [jpg]
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Iraq_burning_tank_cp_8477479 [jpg]
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Violence after brit army assault freeing undercover brits { September 20 2005 }

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