British Troops Rescued from Iraqi Jail
The British military yesterday crashed a tank into an Iraqi prison to free two of its soldiers, injuring several people.
A British armored vehicle escorted by a tank crashed into a detention center Monday in Basra and rescued two undercover troops held by police, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told CNN. British Defense Ministry Secretary John Reid confirmed two British military personnel were “released,” but he gave no details on how they were freed. In a statement released in London, Reid did not say why the two had been taken into custody. But the Iraqi official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, said their arrests stemmed from an incident earlier in the day.
The official said two unknown gunmen in full Arabic dress began firing on civilians in central Basra, wounding several, including a traffic police officer. There were no fatalities, the official said. The two gunmen fled the scene but were captured and taken in for questioning, admitting they were British marines carrying out a “special security task,” the official said. British troops launched the rescue about three hours after Iraqi authorities informed British commanders the men were being held at the police department’s major crime unit, the official said.
British armored vehicles backed by helicopter gunships burst through the walls of an Iraqi jail Monday in the southern city of Basra to free two British commandos detained earlier in the day by Iraqi police, witnesses and Iraqi officials said. The incident climaxed a confrontation between the two nominal allies that had sparked hours of gun battles and rioting in Basra’s streets.
An Iraqi official said a half-dozen armored vehicles had smashed into the jail, the Reuters news agency reported. The provincial governor, Mohammed Walli, told news agencies that the British assault was “barbaric, savage and irresponsible.”
In London, authorities said the two commandos were released after negotiations. But the BBC quoted British defense officials as saying a wall was demolished when British forces went to “collect” the men.
One would hope there’s more to the story and that it will be revealed soon. As David Schraub observes, “Something doesn’t seem right here.” Certainly, this is no way to inspire confidence among the Iraqi people that its government is in charge and the Coalition troops are merely there to lend a helping hand.
Update: Sure enough, the revelation of details helps the British case considerably–while raising other issues.
Two British soldiers whose imprisonment prompted UK troops to storm a Basra police station were later rescued from militia, the Ministry of Defence says. Brigadier John Lorimer said it was of “deep concern” the men detained by police ended up held by Shia militia.
Basra governor Mohammed al-Waili said the men – possibly working undercover – were arrested for allegedly shooting dead a policeman and wounding another. The arrests sparked unrest in which Army vehicles were attacked.
In a statement, Brig Lorimer said that under Iraqi law the soldiers should have been handed over to coalition authorities, but this failed to happen despite repeated requests. “I had good reason to believe that the lives of the soldiers were at risk and troops were sent to the area of Basra near the police station to help ensure their safety by providing a cordon,” Brig Lorimer said. “As shown on television these troops were attacked with firebombs and rockets by a violent and determined crowd.
“Later in the day, however, I became more concerned about the safety of the two soldiers after we received information that they had been handed over to militia elements.”
“I’m delighted that the two British soldiers are back with British forces and are in good health,” Brig Lorimer said. But he added: “It is of deep concern that British soldiers held by the police should then end up being held by the militia. This is unacceptable.”
No kidding. Not a good sign, at all.
Correction: The Moderate Voice post linked above was originally erroneously attributed to Joe Gandleman.