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Coincidence?

Posted by Richard Wednesday, April 11, 2007

After the bomb attack in Basra last week, in which four British service personnel and their translator were murdered while travelling in their Warrior infantry combat vehicle, another major incident in Basra has been reported – mercifully with no loss of life amongst coalition forces.

This was a street battle in Basra's southwestern Qibla district yesterday where, according to Reuters, British troops were engaged in a major gun battle after coming under fire during a routine search operation.

Army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Kevin Stratford-Wright confirmed the action, saying that "ten of the enemy were hit", although he did not know whether they had been wounded or killed. "There was a substantial exchange of gunfire," he added.

According to his account, gunmen had opened fire on the British force from alleyways and rooftops with machinegun fire and several rocket-propelled grenades. The soldiers returned fire from machineguns mounted on armoured personnel carriers.

There have been very few such reports of fighting on this scale – where the fighting has been initiated by the insurgents - and, although there have been concerns about the growing intensity of attacks on British forces, this appears to be a significant escalation.

Coming so soon after the release of the fifteen naval hostages from Iran, in a display of weakness that has repeatedly been aired on Arab television throughout the region, one can only ask if the hostage-taking is in some way linked to what appears to be the growing confidence of the largely Iranian-backed insurgents.

It is perhaps too early to tell and, with the paucity of western journalists in the city, the flow of news may not be sufficiently reliable to judge from future reports.

However, no one can say that the compliant behaviour of the navy hostages in Iranian hands and the ease with which they were captured has actually enhanced Britain's reputation abroad. Therefore, the possibility that the yesterday's attack on British troops is related cannot be dismissed.

The MoD will, of course, deny any linkage but it will be tragic if it is the Army which pays the price for the Navy's carelessness.

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