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Iraqi police arrested over sas kidnapping { November 2006 }

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Iraqi police arrested over SAS kidnap
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
Last Updated: 12:36am GMT 24/12/2006

A senior Iraqi policeman who allegedly masterminded the abduction of two SAS soldiers last year was arrested today following a major security operation in Basra.

Under cover of thick fog, 800 British troops in tanks and armoured vehicles swooped on the home of the police officer and six other Iraqi officers.

Military sources indicated that a substantial blow had been struck against the rogue militias who have been responsible for killing hundreds in Iraq's second-biggest city.

All the officers come from Basra's notorious Serious Crimes Unit. That, as one military commander said, was a "pretty appropriate" name for its activities.

The two SAS troopers were allegedly minutes away from being sold on to insurgents, and certain death, after they were abducted by rogue police at a checkpoint in the Jamiat area of Basra on Sept 19 last year.

As British forces attempted to move in to free the men from a police station, serious unrest ensued. Warrior armoured vehicles were set on fire, leading to pictures of soldiers leaping out of them.

Aware of reports that the troops were about to be exchanged for money and inevitably end up in orange jump suits before being beheaded the British commander ordered a Challenger II tank to knock down the police station's wall in a rescue operation.

While the SAS men were saved, the operation led to a breakdown in Britain's relationship with local politicians and police commanders that was only resolved this summer.

The senior officer was also allegedly responsible for the kidnapping and murder of 17 police translators, trainers and cleaners travelling in a minibus in October.

Under orders from the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the SCU will now be disbanded, sources said.

A senior military official in Basra said: "This is one of the major organs that contribute to death squads in Basra. They dress in police uniform, use police cars and police pistols, and will murder just for political or criminal gain. The CSU are very much a significant part of death squad activity in Basra.

"This operation was designed to remove one of the key ringleaders in preparation for the subsequent disbandment of the CSU."

The death squad killings are part of a bloody turf war between Shia factions competing for control of the city's oil wealth, which is the source of most of the Iraqi government's revenues.

At 2am, fog allowed a force of 35 Warriors and five Challenger II tanks to surround seven houses in Basra. Troops made the arrests without a shot being fired.

Soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment, Duke of Lancaster's, Staffordshires and Royal Green Jackets used the weather to quietly remove the suspects, completing the operation in 40 minutes. All seven suspects were taken to British bases, where six were said to be co-operating.

For the last three months the British have been conducting Operation Sinbad, partly aimed at rooting out rogue Shia militia elements who have infiltrated the police.

With identity cards and retinal scans introduced for all policemen, it is hoped that yesterday's operation will also help towards ending the daily murders in Basra and establish greater stability.

Britain hopes to pull out half of its 7,200 troops next year and hand over control of Basra to Iraqi authorities, although this is dependent on security conditions on the ground.

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