Majar al-Kabir, Iraq; 25 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A day after the shooting deaths of six British soldiers, British forces in Iraq have gone on high alert and are reported to have given local Iraqi civilian leaders a deadline of two days to hand over the gunmen involved in the attack. Qassem Nimeh, an official in the southern Iraqi town of Majar al-Kabir, said British military officials were meeting with local Iraqi leaders to seek the surrender of the gunmen.
A British military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt, said yesterday's attack on British forces in Majar al-Kabir, north of Basra, had been unprovoked and was "murder." However, the full story about the incident remains unclear.
Reuters news agency quotes witnesses as saying the British soldiers were killed by residents after days of tension over British searches for weapons.
The Associated Press quotes a local Iraqi policemen as saying British troops were targeted by townspeople who were angry over four civilian deaths during a demonstration in the town.
In a separate incident, British officials said eight soldiers were wounded yesterday in a firefight with gunmen in southern Iraq. British Defense Secretary Jeff Hoon said in London that the incident could prompt more troop deployments to Iraq.
"There is a review of the security situation on the ground being conducted. My absolute priority is the safety and security of our forces, and if there is a request made by commanding officers on the ground then certainly we have further troops available should that be necessary," Hoon said.
The violence was the most serious that the British forces who control mostly Shi'ite southern Iraq have encountered since the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime.