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Britain, Iraq Say Basra Raid Will Not Tarnish Relations

Britain and Iraq say a confrontation between British troops and Iraqi police this week that sparked riots that killed two Iraqis will not affect their relations. The issue came up in talks in London between Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and British Defense Secretary John Reid.

Both countries are playing down the impact of the showdown Monday between British troops and Iraqi police in the southern city of Basra.

The confrontation was triggered by the police detention of two undercover British soldiers who were handed over to a Shi'ite militia and had to be rescued in a British military raid.

Photos and video of Iraqi rioters firebombing a British armored personnel carrier dominated news coverage in Britain, and renewed calls in some circles for Britain to withdraw it's 8,500 troops from Iraq.

But Defense Secretary Reid said such incidents will not drive Britain out.

"We do not want to be in Iraq any longer than is necessary, but the pace of transition will depend on how long the Iraqi government judge that our forces are needed," he said. "We will not cut and run, and we will not leave the job half-done."

Prime Minister al-Jaafari said Iraq is still investigating the Basra incident, amid suspicions the police force has been infiltrated by pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias.

"At this time, where there are forces in Basra and all over Iraq, such things are expected to happen," he said. "As for us, it will not affect the relationship between Iraq and Britain and we hope that together we will reach to realizing the truth of the matter on the ground."

The prime minister and Mr. Reid both stressed the need to purge the Iraqi security forces and the bureaucracy of sectarian partisans to ensure the neutrality of the emerging government institutions.