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British destroy rogue basra police hq { November 2006 }

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Soldiers destroy Basra's 'rogue' police HQ

By Duncan Gardham
Last Updated: 12:38am GMT 26/12/2006

British forces raided the headquarters of a rogue police unit in Basra on Christmas morning to free prisoners who were about to be executed.

Many of the 127 captives were found in a cramped and squalid cell at the headquarters of the serious crimes unit and showed signs of torture, officers said.

After the raid by 1,000 British and Iraqi troops, Royal Engineers laid charges and blew up the two-storey concrete building, known locally as the "station of death."

The serious crimes unit is the same police division raided in September last year to free two SAS troopers who were about to be sold to insurgents.

Major Charlie Burbridge said seven militia were killed in the raid at 2am local time (11pm British time).

"We came under small arms fire and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire and we exchanged fire with the gunmen and killed seven on the way into the objective," he said.

"We then experienced some resistance at the police station itself. There was an exchange of fire but no casualties there."

Major Burbridge said the prisoners showed signs of torture. "A significant number are exhibiting injuries such as crushed hands, crushed feet, gunshot wounds to the legs and knees, electrical burns and cigarette burns. Many of them couldn't walk," he said.

The raid began when troops from 19 Light Brigade, supported by Iraqi forces, surrounded the police station and set up a cordon to prevent a counter strike.

Royal Engineers then used a combat tractor to breach the walls before Warrior vehicles from the Staffordshire Regiment entered the compound and infantry stormed three buildings. When the compound was secure, Royal Military Police entered the building to detain police officers but found they had all fled.

The prisoners were taken away for processing and RMP removed "all necessary evidence".

Royal Engineers from 38 Engineer Regt then laid bar mines and plastic explosive against the major supports of the building and blew it up.

Many police in Basra have been infiltrated by Shia militias pursuing private vendettas, extortion rackets and sectarian violence.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said the police station had been a "powerful symbol of oppression and corruption" for much of the Basra population.

Major Burbridge said: "We identified the serious crimes unit as, frankly, too far gone. We just had to get rid of it."

"Crimes Unit? That's pretty much what it does." said Capt Tane Dunlop, an Army spokesman.

Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for Iraq's defence ministry, said the operation was co-ordinated with the Iraqi government.

An Iraqi security official said the government decided two days ago to eliminate the serious crimes unit and punish some officers.

"The interior minister decided to cancel the serious crimes unit in Basra city and replace it with a new one based inside the headquarters of Basra police," he said.

"The decision was made two days ago on the grounds of security violations by the serious crimes unit."

The British had initially spoken of 148 prisoners but later said the number actually found was 127 and Basra's police chief, General Mohammed al-Musawi, said they had lost track of 20 of the most dangerous criminals in Basra.

He condemned the raid and said it was carried out without warning after the two sides had been in talks for two days on moving the unit's headquarters.

An Iraqi army commander, Gen Ali Ibrahim, branded the raid "illegal".

"We could have solved this problem ourselves, between Iraqi forces, but the British over-reacted," he told reporters after an emergency meeting of the Basra security committee.

Following the raid, British bases in Basra came under mortar fire in an apparent reprisal attack.

Last week, 800 British troops backed with 35 Warrior armoured vehicles and five Challenger tanks arrested a senior officer in the Basra serious crimes unit and six others under the cover of heavy fog.

The officer was accused of ordering the murder of 17 staff at a British-run police academy on Oct 29 when gunmen ambushed a bus carrying employees back to their homes in Basra.

On Sept 19 last year soldiers stormed another base of the serious crimes unit compound after undercover SAS troopers had been captured by militants.

Operation Sinbad has been running in the south of Iraq for the past three months with the aim of rooting out extremists who have infiltrated the police before the beginning of the withdrawal of 7,200 British troops next year.

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