Anger Grows in Basra After British Raid


New York Times

September 22, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 21 - Waving pistols and assault rifles, Iraqi police officers led an angry anti-British demonstration in the southern city of Basra on Wednesday, and the provincial council voted unanimously to stop cooperating with British forces in the area until Britain apologized for storming a police station to free two of its soldiers.

At least 200 people, mostly officers who work in the police station that was damaged in the raid, rallied outside Basra's police headquarters, demanding an official apology from Britain and the resignation of Basra's police chief, Hassan Sawadi, Iraqi officials said.

Later, Basra's 41-member provincial council voted unanimously to "stop dealing with the British forces working in Basra" until it received an apology for the raid on Monday, The Associated Press reported. In the raid, British tanks crashed through the police station's outer wall and freed two officers who had been detained by the Iraqi police.

To help ease tensions, the Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, made a joint appearance in London with Britain's defense secretary, declaring that the incident was being investigated and "will not affect relations" between the countries.

But the provincial council's vote threatened to worsen the increasingly volatile atmosphere in Basra, where the British had prided themselves on their good relations with the Iraqi authorities. The incident has already been an embarrassment for Britain, with Iraqi officials accusing the British command in Basra of imperial arrogance and "barbaric" behavior in the raid.

It was not clear what the council's vote to stop cooperating with the British would mean in practice, or whether it would include an end to cooperation by the police. In addition to an apology, the council demanded that the British provide compensation for the families of those killed or wounded in the raid and said that it would punish employees who had not tried to defend the station against the British, The A.P. reported.

The details of the raid and its origins remain murky, with British and Iraqi officials offering different accounts. British commanders and government officials have said the Iraqi police handed the men over to Shiite militia members, who largely control the Iraqi police and military in Basra. After breaking into the police station, British officials said, British soldiers found the two men in a nearby house. Initially, some Iraqi officials confirmed that account.

But on Wednesday, Iraq's interior minister, Bayan Jabr, disputed the British account, telling the BBC that the soldiers had not been handed over to anyone else and that the British had acted on a rumor. A spokesman for Muhammad al-Waili, the governor of Basra Province, said the same thing in an interview, adding that the British were "claiming that to justify their illegal behavior."

The arrest and detention of the British officers, who were in Arab dress, was handled appropriately, said the spokesman, who agreed to discuss the episode on the condition of anonymity. A judge issued an arrest warrant and informed both the Basra governor and the city council about the case, he said.

He added that the Iraqi police had been justified in arresting and holding the men, who had opened fire after being stopped at a checkpoint.

As recriminations continued over the Basra incident, a senior aide to Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister of Iraq, accused the current Iraqi government of fabricating corruption charges against Mr. Allawi's former defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, Reuters reported.

On Monday, Radi al Radhi, the chief of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, said he expected warrants to be issued in the coming week for Mr. Shaalan and others in connection with the disappearance of more than $1 billion from the Defense Ministry.

In Amman, Jordan, Ibrahim al- Janabi, the aide to Mr. Allawi, said the accusations against Mr. Shaalan were part of a plot by Iran to smear Mr. Allawi and his secular allies.

Insurgent violence continued across Iraq. In Baghdad, three Iraqi officers were killed Wednesday when Iraqi and American forces clashed with insurgents in Mansour, an upscale district. At least five insurgents - one of them a woman - were killed, witnesses and Interior Ministry officials said.

The battle began when a hostage escaped from the house where the insurgents, all Sudanese citizens, were staying, Interior Ministry officials said. The Iraqi police then raided the house, and after coming under heavy fire from insurgents inside, they called for backup from Iraqi police commandos and American troops.

In Mosul, two Iraqi journalists have been killed by gunmen in the past two days, the Iraqi state television network reported. The victims were Ahlam Yusef, a sound engineer for the network, and Firas Maadidi, a newspaper reporter.

American military officials announced Wednesday that they had captured Abdul Ghafur Yahiyah al-Abdullah, an insurgent in Mosul who is accused of having worked as a driver for leaders of the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Thaier Aldaami, Ali Adeeb and Harb al-Mukhtar contributed reporting for this article.