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US troop deaths top 1,900 in Iraq
Updated: 2005-09-20 22:05

"And that is why in the course of the day, while we were negotiating, in view of that fact that they weren't handed over, we got increasingly worried and the commander on the spot, with hindsight, was absolutely right to do what he did, because we discovered they weren't in the police station, they were somewhere else, but are now safe," Reid said.

His comments contradicted earlier Defense Ministry statements in which British authorities said the two soldiers were freed through negotiations.

Aquil Jabbar, an Iraqi TV cameraman who lives across the street from the jail, said about 150 Iraqi prisoners fled as British commandos stormed inside to rescue their comrades. Iraqi and British officials said that was not true.

The Shiite-dominated south of Iraq, where 8,500 British troops are based, has been far quieter than Sunni regions to the north, but Britons have come under increasingly frequent attacks recently. The British military has reported 96 deaths since the war began.

The latest violence in Basra, 340 miles south of the capital, began early Monday when authorities reported arresting the two Britons, described as special forces commandos dressed in civilian clothing, for allegedly shooting two Iraqi policemen, one of whom reportedly died.

Al-Abadi, however, said the men were arrested because they acted suspiciously.

"The had been there watching for something, collecting information. For two guys to collect information in civilian clothes, in the current tense security situation in Iraq and in Basra, I believe that the reaction of the Iraqi security forces is totally understood," the spokesman said.

British armor then encircled the jail where the two were held.

TV cameramen from Arab satellite broadcasters in the Persian Gulf were allowed to photograph the two men, who appeared to be Westerners and were sitting on the floor in the jail, their hands tied behind their backs.

One of the men had a bandage on his head, the other had blood on his clothes.
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