Basra's governor threatened today to stop dealing with British forces unless they release several Iraqis detained this week, including policemen, suspected of links to local killings and kidnappings.
The warning came shortly before a bomb exploded in a crowded Basra market at about 11:30 a.m. killing at least one woman and wounding three others, said police Capt. Mushtaq Kadhim. It was not immediately clear who was behind the explosion. Eyewitnesses claimed a man stepping out of a police vehicle planted the bomb.
Gov. Mohammed al-Waeli also called for a mass demonstration on Sunday outside the British consulate in downtown Basra, Iraq's second-largest city 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, to demand the release of the men, who were detained Tuesday in a joint Iraqi-British operation.
Tuesday's raids came amid an upsurge of roadside bombings and other violent acts targeting British troops, Iraqi security forces and local citizens in Basra, the main base for British forces in Iraq. Basra's police force has long been believed to have been infiltrated by Shiite militiamen.
"Basra's provincial council and all government offices will suspend all kinds of dealings with the (British) forces at all levels if they don't release the detainees," al-Waeli told The Associated Press.
British Gen. John Cooper, commander of the coalition forces in southeastern Iraq, wrote a letter to Basra's provincial council urging both sides to continue to work together and root out militant elements from the area's security forces.
"Some people wish to drive a wedge between the Basra people and the MNF (Multi-National Forces), but this must not be allowed to happen," Cooper wrote in his letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The Basra governor also called for security control in his area to be handed over to the Iraqi forces and that the British forces should be stationed outside the city.
"The Basra provincial council demands the central government intervene to ensure the release of the detainees," he said, condemning what he described as the "random arrests" conducted by British forces.
Fourteen people were detained in the early morning raids, British officials said, who said nine were released but five others — all policemen — are in British military custody for alleged roles in murder and other crimes connected to rival tribal and militias.
"The individuals we have detained are believed to be some of the most dangerous and corrupt people in Basra," said British military spokesman Maj. Peter Cripps.
British military officials have said Iraq's Interior Ministry ordered the arrests and that local officials were forewarned about the operations.
Friday's explosion happened in a bustling market in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Qiblaa in southwestern Basra, killing at least one woman and wounding three other people, said Kadhim the police officer.
"Eyewitnesses saw a man get out of a traffic police vehicle and plant a plastic bag containing a bomb that exploded a few minutes later," said Kadhim.
Tensions have been especially high between Iraqis and British forces in recent months. Several hundred Iraqis protested outside the Basra governor's office on Wednesday to demand the release of the detainees.
On 19 September, British armoured vehicles broke down the walls of Basra's central jail to free two arrested British soldiers, who were subsequently found in the custody of Shiite militias. The incident led to an eruption of violence in Basra, with British troops attacked by a crowd with stones and Molotov cocktails.
Roadside bombs and other attacks have killed at least 10 British soldiers in southern Iraq since May, while about 100 British troops have died since the war began.Reuse content