UK soldier dies in Basra as ambulance is bombed

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The Independent Online

A British soldier was killed and two others hurt in a bomb attack on a military ambulance outside Basra yesterday.

A British soldier was killed and two others hurt in a bomb attack on a military ambulance outside Basra yesterday.

The bombing, believed to have been triggered by a remote-control device, brings the number of British soldiers killed since the start of the war to 45.

The three soldiers, who have not been identified, were travelling from the city in southern Iraq to an army field hospital in Shaibah. Major Charlie Mayo, a spokesman for British forces in Iraq, said: "This was a direct attack on a clearly-marked ambulance, without any justification whatsoever.

"These ambulances are used to carry Iraqi civilians who have been injured as well as Army personnel so this was as much an attack on the local population as it was British forces.

"We will work closely with the Iraqi police and the local community to track down those responsible."

While Basra remained calm in the immediate aftermath of the war, tensions have been rising amid shortages of fuel and power combined with temperatures of more than 50C.

Violence against the British forces controlling Basra erupted last weekend, when residents staged a protest against the shortages, during which two people died.

The incident yesterday was the second explosives incident in the Basra area to have killed British soldiers since the end of the war. Six Britons were killed in Majar al-Kabir on 24 June.

The attack in Basra coincided with a rise in tension in Baghdad yesterday, as American forces were involved in violent clashes with Iraqi Shias.

An Iraqi Shia organisation issued a warning to US forces to leave the Shia slums of Sadr City on the outskirts of Baghdad within 24 hours. It followed an incident on Wednesday, when an American Black Hawk helicopter tore down a Shia black flag. In the 3,000-strong protests which followed, Shias opened fire on American soldiers, who responded by firing into the crowd, killing an Iraqi and wounding four others.

The extent of the Americans' concern was shown yesterday when they issued a written apology for pulling down the flag and said that those responsible would be punished. The Americans have not apologised for the many incidents in which innocent Iraqi civilians have been gunned down at checkpoints.

Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez said yesterday that pulling down the flag was an accident. "Apparently the helicopter blew down the flag, or somehow the flag was taken down," he said. "There is no policy on our part to fly helicopters to communication towers to take down flags."

But the Associated Press Television News Agency said it had amateur video footage showing the helicopter trying to tear down the flag.

A spokesman for the al-Sadr organisation, Qais Hadi Khazali, said that the apology was not enough, and demanded that the Americans halt helicopter flights over Sadr City and give compensation to the victims of American fire.

Discontent has been growing steadily among Iraq's Shias. If a Shia resistance movement emerges to match the Sunni groups who are attacking American patrols daily, it could be provoked by such an incident.

Iraq's Shia initially welcomed American and British soldiers because they had suffered years of repression under Saddam Hussein. Until now, there has been no Shia resistance and Shia religious leaders have urged their followers to remain peaceful.

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