Britain's defense secretary says British troops in Iraq acted correctly in smashing down a wall to enter an Iraqi police station in a bid to rescue two fellow soldiers. The incident Monday sparked rioting that left two Iraqis dead in the southern city of Basra.
New details have emerged about the events surrounding the dramatic rescue of the two British soldiers, who had been handed over to an Iraqi militia group.
The general in charge of the rescue mission, Brigadier John Lorimer, says Iraqi police picked up the two plainclothes soldiers Monday and put them in custody instead of turning them back over the British military authorities, as required by law.
"I became more concerned about the safety of the two soldiers after we received information that they had been handed over to militia elements," said General Lorimer. "I took the difficult decision to order entry to the Jamiat police station. By taking this action we were able to confirm that the soldiers were no longer being held by the Iraqi police. An operation was then mounted to rescue them from a house in Basra."
British Defense Secretary John Reid says the commander used proper force to save the soldiers after negotiations with the Iraqi police broke down.
"As we were negotiating throughout the day, we became worried they were not being handed over and indeed that they could be in danger," said John Reid. "And subsequent events show that they had in fact been taken out of the police station so the commander on the spot was right to do what he did."
British officials have offered no explanation about why the two detained soldiers were in plain clothes, what sort of mission they were on, or why they were arrested. British media say the two are thought to be members of the Special Forces.
Iraqi police say the detained men had fired on a police patrol. There has been no explanation about how they ended up in custody of a militia.
Defense Secretary Reid says it is not clear if the police were under threat, or if they colluded with the militiamen.
British defense analysts have expressed concern about infiltration and influence of Shi'ite militias on the Basra police force.