As many as 36 people were killed in a fierce battle early today between Shia militiamen and British forces doing house-to-house searches south of Baghdad, according to Iraqi police and hospital officials.
The clashes took place in Amarah, 200 miles south-east of Baghdad.
A doctor at the city's general hospital said 36 bodies had been taken to his facility, although he could not say how many were militiamen and how many were civilians.
British military spokesman Major David Gell, spokesman for the multinational division (south east), said full details were not available yet of the clashes but he said there had been no British casualties.
He said: "We have not yet got the full details, but certainly it was an Iraqi Special Operations Forces operation which had been authorised by the government of Iraq last night and multinational forces were supporting."
He said the operation had taken place in Maysan province, specifically in the towns of Amarah and Majar al-Kabir.
More than 100 people were also injured in the fighting, Iraqi officials have also said.
Iraqi police said the Mahdi Army, the militia commanded by radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was involved in the clashes, which lasted for about two hours before dawn.
The violence took place in the neighbourhoods of al-Mulameen, Um Ghurba and al-Qatta'a, in eastern Amarah, as well as in the Mijar area, about 20 miles west of the city, they said.
Elsewhere today, two people were killed in clashes which erupted between Iraqi police and Mahdi Army fighters in Nasiriyah, about 70 miles south of Amarah, police said.
The fighting began after some police patrols were attacked there last night, according to a police officer and an official in the town's health department.
Some local tribesman joined the fight, siding with Iraqi police in trying to oust the militiamen from their town, the officials said.
A policeman and a militiaman were killed, and more than 60 people were injured, most of them police, they said.
The battle included at least 11 mortar strikes on police headquarters in Nasiriyah.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman in London said: "Details are still quite sketchy for what has actually happened. The only thing I can confirm is that there have been no UK casualties and it was an Iraqi security forces lead with us in support."Reuse content