British soldier shot dead in Basra

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A British soldier was killed in Iraq yesterday while taking part in a "search and detention" operation in Basra.

The soldier, a member of the Parachute Regiment, was taken to a military hospital after the attack but died soon afterwards.

He had been part of a mission called Operation Sinbad, a coordinated clamp-down on Shia militias in the British-controlled south.

A Ministry of Defence statement said: "It is with great sadness that we confirm the death of a British soldier following a planned search and detention operation. The soldier sustained gunshot wounds during the operation and was evacuated to a military hospital butdied from his injuries."

The death takes the number of UK service personnel who have died since the invasion of Iraq to 126. It comes two days after the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said Britain could hand over security responsibility in the whole of southern Iraq, including Basra, to Iraqi authorities by next spring. Mrs Beckett said there was "confidence" that the Iraqis would be able to take over security responsibilities following the handover of two other provinces recently.

The Iraqi police in Basra has been accused of being a front for two Shia militia factions, the Badr Brigade and the Mehdi Army.