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Iraq judge seeks arrest of freed British soldiers

Reuters | September 24 2005
By Abdel-Razzak Hameed

An Iraqi judge has issued arrest warrants for two British undercover soldiers who were freed after a controversial British raid in the city of Basra, an Iraqi lawyer said on Saturday.

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Judge Raghib Hassan accused the men of killing an Iraqi policeman and wounding another, carrying unlicensed weapons and holding false identification, said Kassim al-Sabti, the head of the lawyers syndicate in the southern city.

Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Saturday the warrants had no legal basis.

"All British troops in Iraq come under the jurisdiction of Britain," a defence spokesman said in London.

The whereabouts of the two soldiers was not clear.

British forces mounted a bid to free the two soldiers on Monday, but were initially repelled as a crowd of angry Iraqis petrol-bombed an armoured vehicle.

Later British forces returned and armoured vehicles broke down the walls of the jail. The two soldiers were later freed from a private house nearby, where they were believed to be held by a local militia.

Basra authorities had said British troops killed two Iraqi police during the raid.

Monday's flare-up has harmed the relationship British forces were able to build with local Iraqis in and around Basra, a relatively stable city compared with other parts of Iraq.

Officials said Basra's governing council stopped all cooperation with the British until they apologise, guarantee that similar actions are not taken again and provide compensation for damage inflicted during the operation.

An investigation into the events leading up to the rescue is under way by Iraqi authorities and the British military.

"We will continue to work closely with the Iraqis and the inquiry which the Iraq government has begun into the events of Monday," the British defence spokesman said.

Britain's secretary of defence said he stood by the actions of the forces on the ground.

"They did what they judged was appropriate at the time and I commend them for the swift and decisive action in very difficult circumstances," John Reid said. (Additional reporting by Matthew Jones in London



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