Basra's threat to stop cooperation with British forces evident in the city

British troops greatly reduced their presence in the streets of Iraqi southern city of Basra Thursday, apparently responding to a call from the provincial governor to sever cooperation until London apologized for storming a police station to free two of its soldiers.

For the second day in a row, no British forces were seen accompanying Iraqi police on patrols of Basra, as they routinely had in the past.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb hit a U.S. convoy in southern Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding six; a car bomb wounded another American soldier outside the capital; and suspected insurgents gunned down at least eight Iraqis in four separate attacks Thursday, officials said.

In New York, Iraq's foreign minister said insurgents were likely to step up attempts to disrupt next month's referendum on the country's new constitution, and that the next three months are critical for the country's future.

"Nowhere are the goals of freedom, democracy and progress more at stake," Hoshyar Zebari told U.N. Security Council members at an open meeting Wednesday. "We know our clear way forward, but we need your help. We need the help of every member nation and this organization to win this fight. We stick together, or we lose together."

In an interview with Associated Press Television News at his office in Baghdad on Thursday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie called Monday's attack by British forces on a police station in Basra "a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

The fighting also raised new concerns about the power that radical Shiite militias with close ties to Iran have developed in the region around the southern city of Basra, questions about the role of Britain's 8,500-strong force in Iraq and doubts about the timetable for handing over power to local security forces, reports the AP.

Photo: the AP

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