A quiet tour of duty in the south takes turn for worse

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The Independent Online

Until yesterday, the British-controlled Shia regions of southern Iraq had been deemed comparatively tranquil in relation to the rest of Iraq.

Until yesterday, the British-controlled Shia regions of southern Iraq had been deemed comparatively tranquil in relation to the rest of Iraq.

The majority of military casualties have been confined to Baghdad and surrounding areas under the control of US forces.

The varying death tolls of US and British troops have confirmed this discrepancy. More than 1,000 US soldiers have died in the Iraqi conflict, compared with 73 British fatalities.

Yesterday, there were fears that the explosion that injured nine British soldiers south-west of Basra marked a change in tactics among militant groups.

If claims that the bombing was a suicide attack in revenge for the alleged prisoner abuse by UK troops are proven true, it could herald a significant rise in British-targeted attacks.

Of the 55,000 British troops that have served in Iraq since the military campaign began in February 2003, 73 have been killed and about 790 injured.

But there has recently been an increase in attacks in the reportedly safer southern sector of Iraq. Most incidents have occurred since official combat operations ceased on 1 May, 2003. They are continuing to rise.

The ongoing court martial in Germany in relation to the alleged abuse is likely to do little to allay fears of repercussions among the 9,000 British troops currently stationed in Iraq.

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