BAGHDAD, Iraq - British troops killed seven gunmen in a raid on a renegade
police unit in southern Iraq on Monday, and a suicide bomber attacked a police
checkpoint west of Baghdad, killing three policemen and injuring three other
bombing happened at the entrance to a university in the city of Ramadi, the
capital of Anbar province, a stronghold of the Sunni-dominated insurgency and
one of the most dangerous places in Iraq for US troops. A curfew was imposed in
Christians attended Christmas Mass in some churches in Baghdad and in
northern Iraq, which is home to most of Iraq's 800,000 Christians. Some in
Baghdad stayed at home, fearing they could fall victim to Iraq's violence.
Christians are on the fringes of the conflict, which mostly involves Shiites and
Sunnis, but they have been targeted by Islamic militants.
"I hope next year will bring good things and unite all Iraqis because there
is no difference between Christians and Muslims," said Abu Fadi, a worshipper
who does not use his Christian name because he fears for his safety. "May God
bring relief from this."
Backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, British troops conducted a
raid in the city of Basra after receiving intelligence that a renegade group of
Iraqi police might execute its prisoners at its station, the British military
said. British troops have periodically conducted raids in an effort to root out
corruption in the local police force, which has been infiltrated by Shiite
Leaders of the police station's serious crimes unit were suspected of
involvement with local death squads, and seven were apprehended three days ago
in raids, said Lt. Jenny Saleh of the British Royal Navy in Basra.
"We had intelligence to indicate that the serious crimes unit would execute
its prisoners in the coming days, so we decided to intervene," Saleh said
British troops were fired on as they approached the station and killed seven
gunmen, said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a British military spokesman.
British and Iraqi forces transferred all 76 prisoners at the police station
to another detention facility in downtown Basra, he said. Once the station was
evacuated, British forces destroyed it with explosives.
"We identified the serious crimes unit as, frankly, too far gone. We just had
to get rid of it," said Burbridge, who alleged that its members were involved in
tribal and political feuds in the mostly Shiite south, rather than sectarian
violence of the kind sweeping the mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad.
Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for Iraq's Defense Ministry, said the
operation was coordinated with the Iraqi government.
"Multinational forces got approval for this raid from this ministry and with
participation of the Iraqi army," he said.
Britain has 7,000 troops in Iraq, mostly based around Basra. British
officials have said they expect to withdraw several thousand troops from Iraq
next year. More than 120 British personnel have died in Iraq since the US-led
invasion in March 2003.
In Baghdad, a spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Monday that
US troops detained two Iranians who were in Iraq at his invitation. The
detentions follow US accusations that Iran is supplying aid and training to
Shiite militias in Iraq, as well as technology for roadside bombs. Iran says it
only has political and religious links with Iraqi Shiites, but is believed to be
expanding its role in Iraq partly to counter US influence in the region.
"The president is unhappy about it," Hiwa Osman, Talabani's media adviser,
said of the detentions of the Iranians.
Osman had no further details. The US military said it had no comment.
Late last month, Talabani visited Iran for two days of talks with government
officials to seek their support in quelling the raging sectarian violence in
Iraq. Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, has considerable influence among Iraq's
Shiite majority ¡ª elements of which have been blamed for the bulk of the recent
In other violence Monday, a suicide bomber blew up at an Iraqi army
checkpoint south of Ramadi, and clashes then erupted between gunmen and
soldiers, a police officer said on condition of anonymity. Mortars exploded in
the area, he said.
A sniper shot and killed a police commando in Samarra, northwest of Baghdad,
police said. The Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra set off reprisals
against Sunni mosques and clerics in a tit-for-tat, sectarian war that
dramatically increased the violence in Iraq this year.