News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqBritish troops kill 7 gunmen in Iraq

British troops kill 7 gunmen in Iraq

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AP: British troops killed seven gunmen in a raid on a renegade police unit in southern Iraq on Monday, and a car bomb that exploded next to an open-air market in Baghdad killed nine civilians and wounded 11. Associated Press

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – British troops killed seven gunmen in a raid on a renegade police unit in southern Iraq on Monday, and a car bomb that exploded next to an open-air market in Baghdad killed nine civilians and wounded 11.

The car bombing hit an area of a mostly Shiite district in the capital’s east that often attracts crowds of shoppers as well as laborers looking for work. In another part of eastern Baghdad, a suicide bomber exploded in a minibus, killing three people and injuring 19, police said.

Earlier, a suicide bomber killed three policemen at checkpoint at a university entrance in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, a stronghold of the Sunni-dominated insurgency. The deaths came a day after Iraq’s interior minister said attacks targeting police had killed some 12,000 officers since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. command announced that an American soldier and a Marine had died Sunday from combat wounds suffered in Anbar province. Their names were withheld pending notification of their families.

Christians attended Christmas services in Baghdad and northern Iraq, which is home to most of Iraq’s 800,000 Christians. Some in Baghdad stayed home, however, fearing they could fall victim to Iraq’s violence. Christians are on the fringes of the conflict, which mostly involves Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs, but they have been targeted by Islamic militants.

“I hope next year will bring good things and unite all Iraqis because there is no difference between Christians and Muslims,” said Abu Fadi, a worshipper who does not use his Christian name because he fears for his safety. “May God bring relief from this.”

Backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, British soldiers raided a police station to head off the possibility that a renegade unit of Iraqi police would kill its prisoners, the British military said.

Leaders of the station’s serious crimes unit were suspected of involvement with local Shiite death squads and seven had been apprehended three days ago in other raids, said a British spokeswoman, Royal Navy Lt. Jenny Saleh.

“We had intelligence to indicate that the serious crimes unit would execute its prisoners in the coming days, so we decided to intervene,” Saleh said without elaborating.

British troops were fired on as they approached the station and their return fire killed seven gunmen, said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, another British military spokesman.

British and Iraqi forces transferred all 76 prisoners at the station to another facility in downtown Basra, he said. Some prisoners had “classic torture injuries” such as crushed hands and feet, cigarette and electrical wounds and gunshot wounds in the knees, Burbridge said.

Once the station was evacuated, British troops destroyed it with explosives.

“We identified the serious crimes unit as, frankly, too far gone. We just had to get rid of it,” Burbridge said.

He alleged the unit’s members were involved in tribal and political feuds in the mostly Shiite south, rather than sectarian reprisal killings like those that have terrorized mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad.

Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for Iraq’s Defense Ministry, said the operation was coordinated with the Iraqi government. “Multinational forces got approval for this raid from this ministry and with participation of the Iraqi army,” he said.

In Baghdad, a spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani complained that U.S. troops had detained two Iranians who were in Iraq at his invitation. “The president is unhappy about it,” said Hiwa Osman, Talabani’s media adviser.

He gave no further details, and the U.S. military said it had no comment.

U.S. officials have charged that Iran supplies aid and training to Shiite militias in Iraq as well as technology for roadside bombs. The Tehran regime says it only has political and religious links with Iraqi Shiites, but is believed to be expanding its role in Iraq partly to counter U.S. influence in the region.

In Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in protest over what it said was the detention of Iranian diplomats in Iraq by U.S. forces, state-run radio reported. The Swiss Embassy acts as a go-between for Iran and the U.S., which don’t have diplomatic relations.

“The detention of Iranian diplomats there would have unpleasant consequences for the U.S.,” Iranian radio quoted spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini as saying. It was unclear whether those where the two Iranians cited by Osman.

Late last month, Talabani visited Iran for two days of talks with government officials to seek their support in quelling the raging sectarian violence in Iraq. Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, has considerable influence among Iraq’s Shiite majority – elements of which have been blamed for the bulk of the recent attacks.

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