5 leaders arrested in Basra

British and Danish troops staged raids in 2nd-largest city

December 09, 2006|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Molly Hennessy-Fiske,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Baghdad, Iraq -- As many as 1,000 British and Danish troops staged a major raid yesterday in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, detaining five tribal leaders with ties to Shiite militias, British officials said.

The operation was the largest in Basra in the three years since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's government, according to Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a spokesman for the British forces in Basra.

The move was part of the continued effort by the British, who have security control in Basra, to suppress continued fighting among Shiite groups and rival tribes in the region.

Tribes in the Hartha area of Basra, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, have been clashing for decades - ever since Hussein drained the marshy area, creating disputed territory and simmering "blood feuds," Burbridge said.

Shiite contingents are also vying for control of local government. Basra's political leadership is almost evenly split between the Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, with its Badr Organization militia and affiliates in Iran, and Fadila, a homegrown Shiite party. The area is also home to a large contingent of Shiites loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-U.S. cleric, and his Mahdi army militia.

Burbridge said the five men seized yesterday belong to "a rogue breakaway element of a Shiite militia ... part of a network that's operating in Basra." An al-Sadr official in Basra said at least one of the men was allied with the Mahdi army.

The raid began at 3 a.m., with Royal Marine amphibious assault teams creeping up from the river, 800 British troops closing in from the south, 200 Danish troops from the north, helicopters and jets hovering overhead, Burbridge said.

Yesterday, at least 29 people died in violence across Iraq. During the preceding 24 hours, 18 bodies were found in Baghdad, some shot execution-style.

The military announced that a roadside bomb killed an American soldier Thursday during a joint patrol with the Iraqi army in western Baghdad, raising the number of U.S. forces killed this month to 33.

Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S forces conducted a raid north of Baghdad, killing 20 people. Military officials said the dead, who included two women, were all armed insurgents with ties to al-Qaida in Iraq. Local residents claimed civilians had been killed and targeted.

The raid began at 12:30 a.m. yesterday as U.S. soldiers attacked the village of Jazeera in the Ishaqi area, a farming region about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Troops searched homes and traded fire with residents before calling in planes to bomb the area, according to a military statement.

The statement said 18 men and two women were killed; two were shot during the initial fighting. Soldiers also destroyed several weapons caches, including AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-personnel mines, explosives, blasting caps and suicide vests, according to the statement.

The Ministry of the Interior reported that the raid killed 19, including 10 children, five women and four men, and that no weapons were found in the area.

Jazeera's mayor, Amer Alwan, said soldiers killed four women, six children and 15 men, all execution style. Witnesses identified the owners of the two homes targeted as brothers Mohammed and Mahmood Jalmood.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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