BAGHDAD, Iraq - Backed by tanks, British soldiers raided a police station in
the southern city of Basra on Monday, killing seven gunmen in an effort to stop
renegade Iraqi officers from executing their prisoners, the British military
Another US soldier died in southern
Baghdad, meanwhile, raising the death toll for American troops in Iraq to 2,972
¡ª one less than the number of people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
This image provided by the British Army shows the Jameat
police station in Basra, Iraq, Monday, Dec. 25, 2006 being destroyed in an
explosion by British troops following a raid.
After the British stormed the Basra police station, they removed the
prisoners, who showed evidence of torture, then evacuated the building before
blowing it up.
The operation showed how closely aligned some police units are with militias
and death squads ¡ª and the challenges coalition forces face as they transfer
authority for security to Iraqis.
In Baghdad, police found 40 bodies, apparent victims of sectarian violence. A
car bomb exploded beside a market and a suicide bomber struck a bus in separate
attacks that killed 14 civilians and wounded at least 33.
In the Basra raid, the British set out to arrest officers with the station's
serious crimes unit who were suspected of involvement with Shiite death squads.
Seven members of the rogue police unit were apprehended three days ago in other
raids, said a British spokeswoman, Royal Navy Lt. Jenny Saleh.
"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.
troops were fired on as they approached the station and their return fire killed
seven gunmen, said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, another British military spokesman.
British and Iraqi forces transferred all 76 prisoners at the station to
another facility in downtown Basra, he said. Some prisoners had "classic torture
injuries" such as crushed hands and feet, cigarette and electrical burns and
gunshot wounds in the knees, Burbridge said.
The British demolished the building in an effort to disband the unit. "We
identified the serious crimes unit as, frankly, too far gone," Burbridge said.
"We just had to get rid of it."
The unit's members, he alleged, were involved in tribal and political feuds
in southern Iraq, which is mostly Shiite. They were not, he said, engaged in the
kind of sectarian reprisal killings that have terrorized mixed neighborhoods of
Most of Britain's 7,200 troops in Iraq are based in the Basra area.
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.
US Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of training Iraqi forces,
said in Washington last week that efforts were under way to weed out Iraqi
national police believed to be sympathetic to the militias.
Up to a quarter are thought to be aligned with the militias, which are
engaged in sectarian violence.
The establishment of a viable Iraqi police force is vital to the US-led
coalition's goal of handing responsibility for security to Iraqis, so foreign
troops can return home.
In another sign of lawlessness in Basra, gunmen on Monday robbed $740,000
from a bank about half a mile from the raided police station.