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Tuesday, September 20, 2005 

British army and Ministry of Defence spinning Basra incident.

Just what on earth actually did happen in Basra yesterday? Almost every news account I come across seems to be different. Here's the Guardian's account:

British troops used tanks last night to break down the walls of a prison in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and free two undercover British soldiers who were seized earlier in the day by local police.

An official from the Iraqi interior ministry said half a dozen tanks had broken down the walls of the jail and troops had then stormed it to free the two British soldiers. The governor of Basra last night condemned the "barbaric aggression" of British forces in storming the jail.

Aquil Jabbar, an Iraqi television cameraman who lives across the street from the jail, said dozens of Iraqi prisoners also fled in the confusion.

In a statement last night the defence secretary, John Reid, said: "I am pleased to be able to say that the British servicemen who were seen being injured in the graphic photographs are being treated for minor injuries only and are expected to return to duty shortly. We remain committed to helping the Iraqi government for as long as they judge that a coalition presence is necessary to provide security."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have not had confirmation of the full details of this. We've heard nothing to suggest we stormed the prison. We understand there were negotiations."

In a day of dramatic incidents in the heart of the British-controlled area of Iraq, the two undercover soldiers - almost certainly special forces - were held by Iraqi security forces after clashes that reportedly left two people dead and threatened to escalate into a diplomatic incident between London and Baghdad.

The soldiers, who were said to have been wearing Arab headdress, were accused of firing at Iraqi police when stopped at a road block.

In another incident an angry crowd attacked a Warrior armoured personnel carrier with petrol bombs. A British soldier was forced to flee from his burning vehicle.

Muhammad al-Abadi, an official in the Basra governorate, told journalists the two undercover soldiers had looked suspicious to police. "A policeman approached them and then one of these guys fired at him. Then the police managed to capture them."

Senior British officials said the Iraqis who attacked the Warrior armoured vehicle had prepared their petrol bomb attack before the incident involving the two undercover soldiers. The origins of the attack on the Warrior, they say, lay in events the previous day when about 200 members of the al-Mahdi Army, a militia headed by the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, made a show of force in Basra, blocking roads in the city and demanding the release of their local commanders.

So, 2 "undercover" British soldiers allegedly fired at a police roadblock, who were then captured and taken to the local lockup. A major incident nonetheless, but possibly a misunderstanding, right?

Here's the wire story from the Xinhua news agency:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Iraqi police detained two British soldiers in civilian clothes in the southern city Basra for firing on a police station on Monday, police said.

"Two persons wearing Arab uniforms opened fire at a police station in Basra. A police patrol followed the attackers and captured them to discover they were two British soldiers," an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua.

The two soldiers were using a civilian car packed with explosives, the source said.

He added that the two were being interrogated in the police headquarters of Basra.

The British forces informed the Iraqi authorities that the two soldiers were performing an official duty, the source said. British military authorities said they could not confirm the incident but investigations were underway.

Now they're attacking a police station with a car packed full of explosives. What would 2 undercover SAS soldiers be doing attacking police stations with cars of explosives, hmmm?

This is the latest BBC report:

The Iraqi government has launched an inquiry into the events that led the British Army to stage a dramatic rescue of two UK soldiers detained by police.

Both men were members of the SAS elite special forces, sources told the BBC's Richard Galpin in Baghdad.

The soldiers were arrested by police and then handed over to a militia group, the British Army says.

Iraq's interior ministry ordered the police force in Basra to release the soldiers but that order was ignored.

Defence Secretary John Reid told reporters that a delegation of six British military personnel, including a legal officer, had been sent to the police station to ease the release of the men.

Mr Reid said surveillance had established the men were being moved to another location, while at the same time an angry crowd posed an obstacle to the departure of the six-strong team.

The British commander on the ground, Brigadier John Lorimer, ordered British forces to move into the police station to help the team.

Almost simultaneously, a separate operation was staged to rescue the men from the place where they had been moved to.

It is understood force was also used in this operation, although there were no casualties as the Shia militia holding the British soldiers fled.

The episode saw a wall flattened at the police station by a British armoured personnel carrier, but Mr Reid said the coalition was still going "in the right direction" in terms of its overall strategy in Iraq and said this incident was merely "local".

Basra governor Mohammed al-Waili said the men - possibly working undercover - were arrested for allegedly shooting dead a policeman and wounding another.

Richard Galpin said al-Jazeera news channel footage, purportedly of the equipment carried in the men's car, showed assault rifles, a light machine gun, an anti-tank weapon, radio gear and medical kit.

This is thought to be standard kit for the SAS operating in such a theatre of operations, he said.

The arrests sparked angry protests from locals in which British vehicles were attacked and set on fire.

Seems like the soldiers captured were definitely SAS members, and that the BBC itself may well be trying to spin why they had "explosives" in their car. Apparently what they had is typical SAS kit. Without seeing any pictures I obviously can't comment. What I can say is that this entire operation stinks and that the government has lied from the very beginning. We've had no explanation as to why these two soldiers were undercover, apart from the rumour they may have been trying to track down insurgents that have recently seemingly perfected roadside bombs. Did they fire at a roadblock or a police station? Why did they do so? Had they infiltrated an insurgent group and were trying to prove themselves, or was this something much more sinister? Whichever it was, the army was very keen to get these two soldiers back as soon as possible. Are the claims that they had been handed over to a Shia militia credible, or more spin to make their use of force to break into the prison look better? Even if they were, it seems unlikely that the militia would have done anything stupid enough to hurt or kill them, as the British army has seemingly turned a blind eye to militias infiltrating or joining the Basra police force, despite Sunday's incident with the Mahdi army.

Whether we'll get any answers is doubtful. What is obviously nonsense is this pathetic statement put out by the army, which I'm not going to bother pasting. One thing though. Does the below look like minor damage to you?

Also, why did the government request that the photos of the two soldiers be pixellated?
Naturally, the Guardian and I would guess the rest of the British media very kindly decided to do what the government requested. Thanks again to RI for providing the uncensored image.

Here's some more minor disturbance photos that show that the UK has won hearts and minds and obviously shouldn't consider withdrawing any time soon:

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give a nigga a break

thanks for this

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