British top minister says troops acted correctly in Basra operation

British forces acted correctly in moving forcefully to free two comrades who had been arrested in Basra in southern Iraq, Defense Secretary John Reid said Tuesday.

Reid, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., said two soldiers should have been handed over to British forces after they were arrested by Iraqi police.

Brig. John Lorimer, commander of the 12th Mechanized Brigade in Basra, said in a statement that the two soldiers wound up in the custody of Iraqi militias.

"We don't actually know the details of why these people were handed over - whether it was under threats or by collusion, or whatever," Reid said.

"What we do know is that under the law they should have been handed back to the British forces themselves. That is the law which enshrines our presence there.

The Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that when the soldiers were not released, British forces broke down a perimeter wall at the police station. Troops did not find the two men, but found evidence which led them to a house where they were held captive, the ministry said.

The ministry released a statement by Lorimer in which he said he would not hesitate to take forceful action again.

"This is unacceptable and I should stress that we won't hesitate to take action against those who are involved in planning and conducting attacks against coalition forces," Lorimer said.

From his words Lorimer would be following up Tuesday with Iraqi authorities to determine "why the soldiers were not immediately handed over" to the multinational force, the AP reports.

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