Iraqi PM to meet British Defence Secretary John Reid

Iraq's prime minister was to meet Defence Secretary John Reid in London on Wednesday with both countries working to quell tension caused by a British military raid that freed two soldiers held by Iraqi militiamen.

Iraq issued a statement saying there was no crisis between its government and Britain, but senior Iraqi officials strongly criticised the raid, with the governor of the southern province of Basra calling it a "barbaric act", according to Reuters.

"Both governments are in close contact, and an inquiry will be conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior into the incident," a statement from Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's office said. It also urged calm on all sides.

Jaafari, returning from New York, was due to meet Reid in London at 1300 GMT (2:00 p.m. British time).

Reid, under pressure at home over the deployment of 8,500 troops in Iraq and facing calls for a withdrawal timetable, told a domestic newspaper Britain would not "cut and run".

"We do not have designs to stay (in Iraq) as an occupying imperial power. Nor are we going to cut and run because of terrorists," he told the Daily Telegraph.

The diplomatic hitch follows a raid by British forces to free two undercover soldiers who were detained by Iraqi security forces in Basra following a firefight on Monday.

In the raid, British armoured vehicles crushed the walls of an Iraqi jail, before troops sprung the men not from the hands of the Iraqi police, but from militiamen hiding out nearby.

Basra, a Shiite city in the far south of Iraq, has seen a surge in militia activity over the past nine months, with rival groups loyal to separate Shiite political movements fighting for influence in the security forces and the local council.

The militias are also believed to have carried out attacks on British troops, three of whom have been killed by roadside bombs this month, and on journalists exposing their actions.

Iraqi authorities admitted that insurgents, including members of the militia, had infiltrated the police and other security forces in Iraq's second largest city and elsewhere.

"Our Iraqi security forces in general, and these in particular and in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit that they have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists as well," National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told the BBC on Tuesday.

He said he did not know the extent of the infiltration, but said new vetting procedures were in place to weed out bad apples.

On photo: British Defence Secretary John Reid.

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