UK: 6 victims not in crowd clash
BASRA, Iraq (CNN) -- British officials investigating the deaths of six British military policemen in southern Iraq say the victims were not involved in earlier crowd violence that left four Iraqis dead.
The six were the sole members of a Royal Military Police patrol that was training local police forces, Maj. Gen. Peter Wall said in Basra Thursday.
"You will understand that it would be wholly inappropriate for me to make any detailed comments about this incident while we are still trying to establish the facts," said Wall, who is in charge of British troops in Iraq.
"The fact that there were no British survivors makes this particularly difficult."
Majar al-Kabir, just outside al-Amarah in southern Iraq, was the RMP patrol's first stop Tuesday, Wall said.
The patrol's stop at the village police station apparently coincided with a clash between a platoon from the Parachute Regiment and Iraqis who believed they had come to conduct weapons searches in violation of an agreement with local elders.
"The crowd violence appears to have stemmed from a misunderstanding," Wall said. "The townspeople expected searches for weapons to be conducted by our patrols.
"That was not our intent and this had been explained to the town council at a formal meeting earlier in the week, when the strength of their resentment to weapons searches had become clear."
The actual intent was "a routine joint patrol in the town working with the local militia," Wall said.
He said investigators were piecing together a narrative of what happened with help from local leaders who have given them "excellent co-operation."
Details of the incidents were confused and contradictory as they unfolded earlier this week. Initially, police sources said the six Britons were killed when troops retreated to the police station.
According to Dr. Adel al-Shawi, director general of al-Majar hospital, British troops entered the village Tuesday morning searching for weapons despite the agreement that gave local elders 60 days to round up heavy weapons.
The hospital administrator said children began throwing rocks at the British patrol as the crowd grew larger, more vocal and confrontational. According to the British sources, a number of men in the crowd had weapons, possibly as many as 400.
British soldiers first fired warning shots with rubber bullets, al-Shawi said, before weapons fire came from the crowd. The troops then fired live ammunition into the crowd.
British troops returned fire and called for additional forces, and a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter that arrived, carrying a Quick Reaction Force, came under fire as it landed, British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon said.
When all the shooting was over, four Iraqis were dead, al-Shawi said, and 17 were wounded..
Eight British troops were wounded -- one on the ground and seven in the helicopter, Hoon said. Two sustained "very serious injuries" and were transferred to a field hospital in Kuwait, while the other six were treated in a nearby coalition hospital, he said.
The soldiers were the first Britons to be killed in an Iraqi attack since the United States announced the end of major combat on May 1. During that same period, 19 U.S. troops have been killed in attacks by Iraqis, according to the U.S. military.
The UK government said Wednesday it is reviewing its military tactics in Iraq and could send up to 5,000 additional troops to the country. (Full story)
Hoon said "significant forces" are available to go, if needed.
"My absolute priority is the safety and security of British forces. Already, an urgent review is under way to ensure their safety," he told the BBC.
"Depending on the results of that review ... we have significant forces available should it be necessary. Many thousands, certainly."