British Troops Raid, Raze Station House In Southern Iraq

By Nancy Trejos and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 26, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 25 -- About 1,000 British and Iraqi troops raided a police station in the southern city of Basra on Monday, killing seven gunmen and taking custody of more than 100 prisoners who were believed to be marked for execution by a renegade police unit.

Many of the prisoners at the Jamiat police station showed signs of torture, including cigarette and electrical burns, gunshot wounds in their legs and knees, and hands that had been crushed, said Capt. Tane Dunlop, a spokesman for British forces in Iraq. The station, a base for a squad known as the serious crimes unit, was later blown up by British forces.

The targeted unit "was in fact living up to its name," Dunlop said. "It was conducting serious crimes rather than preventing it."

Iraqi police forces are widely thought to be infiltrated by Shiite militias, but British military spokesmen said the rogue elements in this particular unit were involved in gang-like activity rather than sectarian killings. Still, the episode highlighted the challenges U.S.-led coalition forces face in preparing the Iraqi army and police to secure their own country. Training Iraqi forces to do so is considered key to any U.S. troop withdrawal.

Maj. Charlie Burbridge, another British military spokesman, said the serious crimes unit had been suspected of illegal activity, including kidnappings, murders and attacks on British and other multinational forces.

The operation against the unit began Friday, when seven of its leaders were detained, Burbridge said. British forces were particularly interested in capturing the unit's ringleader, who was suspected of participating in the deaths several weeks ago of 17 civilians who had worked for an Iraqi police academy.

The British military made clear its plans to disband the unit. Fearing that the Iraqis would kill their prisoners before losing their jobs, the British forces decided to move the detainees elsewhere.

At the station Monday, they met with resistance but were able to overpower the armed men, Dunlop said. They then confiscated weapons and explosives and took custody of 127 prisoners, 100 of whom had been packed into one cell. The Iraqi army assumed responsibility for the prisoners, taking them to other detention facilities.

British troops have normally maintained a low profile in Basra. But they ended their raid on Monday by demolishing the base with explosives. The building, Dunlop said, had "a lot of bad history."

"We wanted to get rid of it," he said. "We want to send a message and prevent its reoccupation by criminal enterprises."

Brig. Mohamad Humadi, Basra's police commander, condemned the operation, saying the British military did not give him and other police in the city enough notice. Ali Humadi, an official with the Basra Security Committee set up by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said his group had no prior knowledge of the operation.

But an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, Mohammed al-Askari, said the raid was a coordinated effort among coalition and Iraqi forces and the country's Interior Ministry.

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