BASRA, Iraq (AP) – British forces raided a house in Basra, detaining 12 Iraqis suspected of carrying out recent attacks on British and U.S. troops, officials said Friday.
The men taken into custody late Thursday night also are suspected of supporting the al-Mahdi militia, which is controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi rebel Shiite cleric, said British military spokesman Maj. Steven Melbourne. The militia has been accused of carrying out such attacks with help from neighboring Iran.
Melbourne declined to provide any other details about the raid, which apparently was peaceful, or say what would happen to the detainees.
In London, Britain”s Ministry of Defense confirmed the raid.
On Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his government suspects that Iran and Lebanon”s Hezbollah might be supplying technology and explosives to Shiite Muslim militant groups operating in Iraq, but he provided no proof.
Sheik Khalil Al-Maliki, a member of the al-Mahdi militia, told The Associated Press that British soldiers and tanks raided the home of police officer Ali Eliwi just after midnight, detaining him and 11 other Iraqis there and seizing their weapons. "I think the reason is the recent British claim about Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs," Al-Maliki said.
British and U.S. forces have been attacked in recent months by roadside bombs packed with "shaped charges," which are much more deadly than conventional roadside bombs.
Such attacks have killed six British troops since July, and late last month two U.S. Army soldiers were killed when a bomb exploded near their vehicle in Shaibah, a town near Basra.
The arrests in Basra Thursday night could increase tensions between the 8,500 British troops in Iraq and the provincial government and people of Basra, Iraq”s second largest city.
Last month, British forces used armored vehicles to storm a Basra jail and free two of their soldiers who had been arrested by Basra police. During the raid, British forces learned that Shiite Muslim militiamen and police had moved the men to a nearby house. The British then stormed that house and rescued them.
At least five Iraqi civilians were reportedly killed in the fighting, and Basra”s provincial government responded by suspending all cooperation with British forces. It also demanded the return of the two freed British soldiers, but Britain”s government has refused.