British soldier is killed in Basra as bombs claim 110 lives

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A British soldier was killed and four others seriously injured in a weekend of unremitting violence in Iraq which claimed a total of 110 lives.

The British casualties were caused by a roadside bomb attack on a patrol near Basra yesterday with the use, it is believed, of an infra-red explosive device which has already led to the death of at least eight other soldiers.

The death brings the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq to 98, at least nine of whom were killed by the new type of bomb. Britain and the US have accused Iran of supplying technology for the bomb and training the bombers. Tehran denies it. The death is the first for the Desert Rats - the 7th Armoured Brigade - since they returned to Iraq for the second time just weeks ago.

Major Steve Melbourne said that one of the injured soldiers was in a very serious condition and all four had been taken for treatment at Shaibah logistics base field hospital, south of the city.

After a period of relative quiet in Iraq's second largest city, this is the fifth soldier killed on patrol in the area in three months.

The Ministry of Defence would not confirm the identity of the dead serviceman until next of kin had been identified. The city centre is patrolled by the Highlanders Battle Group, which includes members of several attached regiments.

Major Melbourne said: "The area has been secured. The investigation is ongoing and further details on that will be released as they become available."

The same type of device was used at the weekend in the killing of six US troops in two separate attacks. Five soldiers died in an ambush at Baji and another was killed at Haditha. Fifteen civilians and eight insurgents were killed in the second bombing and the ensuing firefight.

A funeral in the town of Abu Sayda was bombed when a car packed with explosives was driven into a tent where mourners were reciting verses from the Koran. The bomb left 50 people dead and wounded 75 others.

The injured were taken by ambulances and commandeered private cars to the town hospital. A shortage of medical staff, supplies and space led to some of them dying as they lay waiting in corridors for treatment.

The victims were Shias. More than 136 members of the community had been killed in a series of bombings, including 76 when two mosques were blown up in three days following the discovery of 169 tortured and starved captives, all but three of them Sunnis, in an Interior Ministry bunker in Baghdad.

Many of the sectarian attacks on Shias have been blamed on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of the group al-Qa'ida in Iraq who had also claimed responsibility for the Amman hotel bombings which killed 58 people. His family took out advertisements in two Jordanian newspapers yesterday announcing they were severing all links with him and pledging allegiance to King Abdullah II.

It said: "As we pledge to maintain homage to your throne and to our precious Jordan ... we denounce in the clearest terms all the terrorist actions claimed by the so-called Ahmed Fadheel Nazzai Khalayleh, who calls himself Abu Musab al-Zarqwai.... A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear. We sever links with him until doomsday."

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in Baghdad against the torture of detainees. The marchers, who carried posters of mistreated prisoners, disfigured bodies and US troops carrying out arrests, called for an international investigation into claims that Iraqi government troops and paramilitaries wereoperating death squads and holding captives in illegal prisons.

One of the organisers, Ali al-Saadoun, said "We want the United Nations to inquire into what is going on. We want other countries to put pressure on the Iraqi and American governments to stop this abuse. An inquiry carried out by the Iraqi government will mean nothing." The police said that they had found three mutilated bodies near Sadr City, a vast, impoverished Shia suburb of Baghdad, and four former members of the Baath Party were shot dead in the Shia town of Karbala. The bodies of two members of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic party were delivered to a morgue in Baghdad. Their families claimed that the men had been taken away by Interior Ministry commandos a week ago.

At an Arab League conference in Cairo, Iraq's President Jalal Talabani said he was willing to talk to insurgents if they sought a dialogue. "If those who consider themselves the Iraqi resistance desired to contact me, I would not refuse to meet any Iraqi who wants to meet me. But of course that does not mean I will accept what they say," he said.

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