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British Minister Defends Al-Basrah Action

20 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- British Defense Secretary John Reid has defended as "absolutely right" a rescue operation by British forces of two soldiers who had been arrested by Iraqi police in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah.

Reid said today the two soldiers should have been handed back to coalition forces under an agreement with Baghdad.

Al-Basrah government official Mohammed al-Abadi spoke to reporters after the soldiers' arrest:

"After questioning them we discovered that they were from the British Army in Al-Basrah and they were on a mission," al-Abadi said. "They refused to say what their mission was. Their commander did not tell us either what their mission was; he said he couldn't speak about their mission, but I will investigate it."

According to the British Army in Al-Basrah, local police "ignored" an order from the Iraqi Interior Ministry to release the two men. The military then gave orders "to enter the police station" where the men were believed to be held. The army said it had information the captives had been handed over to local militia and that their "lives were in danger."

The British soldiers were found not to be in the police station, but had been transferred to a house in Al-Basrah from which they were freed.

Also today, reports say a suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. diplomatic convoy in the northern city of Mosul, killing four security guards.