Sunday, February 18, 2007

British battle insurgents in 'numerous attacks' in Basra

British forces setting up a checkpoint in Basra on Thursday. Britain has primary responsibility for the city in southern Iraq, which houses its only port.

BASRA, Iraq, Feb 18 (Reuters) - British forces clashed with gunmen armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades in a Shi'ite militia stronghold of the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Sunday, killing at least three, Iraqi police said.

The British military confirmed the clashes, saying its soldiers had been supporting Iraqi troops on a "strike operation" in the northern slum area of Hayaniya when they came under attack.

"There were numerous attacks with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades," said British military spokesman Major David Gell.

"We returned fire using proportional force. A number of gunmen are reported to have been shot, but we have no confirmation of casualties."

Iraqi police said three gunmen were killed and four wounded in the firefight. Gell said no British soldiers were wounded.

The battle erupted during a crackdown by 3,000 Iraqi and British troops in the oil port on violence by criminal gangs and feuding Shi'ite militias. It was linked to a military offensive to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet