British troops hurt in Basra clashes

Tom Whitehead,Pa News
Monday 29 March 2004 00:00 BST

Three British soldiers were injured as they clashed with stone-throwing Iraqis in Basra today, the Ministry of Defence said.

The troops were caught up in angry scenes in Iraq's second city this morning as they tried to evict illegal squatters from a government building.

Three suffered minor injuries as video footage of the violent confrontation, which showed troops using batons to beat back their attackers, was shown around the world.

Reports claimed the squatters were anti-coalition activists who had occupied the building, but an MoD spokesman said that was not clear and investigations were ongoing.

The incident follows a number of clashes with British forces in Basra in recent weeks, which included one group escaping serious injury when they were engulfed in flames from petrol bombs.

On today's attacks, the spokesman said: "There was a public order disturbance in Basra as British soldiers evicted illegal tenants from a local government building.

"Soldiers took appropriate measures to contain them and three soldiers suffered minor injuries.

"We are not aware of any Iraqi injuries."

The spokesman said the incident lasted about 25 minutes and local police and the Royal Military Police were now investigating.

Video footage showed troops wearing riot helmets come under a barrage of stones before using batons to subdue their attackers.

One man was seen trying to wrestle a weapon from a soldier.

Local reports suggested three Iraqis were injured. A freelance photographer working for the Associated Press, Nabil al-Jourani, also said he was shot in a leg with a rubber bullet fired by the soldiers.

The MoD was unable to confirm whether baton rounds were fired.

Last week petrol bombs were thrown at 14 British soldiers by an angry mob during a demonstration in the city.

Graphic pictures of the troops battling to beat off the flames, which burned their helmets and combat uniforms, filled newspaper front pages. Incredibly, the soldiers escaped serious injury.

Days earlier, a car was blown up as a British patrol passed by, killing three civilians.

However, the MoD spokesman played down any suggestion that violence was increasing in Basra.

"We take all incidents of this nature seriously but this was not connected with any other incidents," he said.

"I do not think there is anything to read into this of any level of deterioration in violence."

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