British soldier killed, four injured in roadside bomb attack in southern Iraq

A British soldier was killed and four injured in a roadside bomb attack in southern Iraq yesterday, bringing the total of UK military deaths since the invasion in March 2003 to 98.The Ministry of Defence in London said the bomb hit a routine patrol at around 12.30pm local time in Basra, Iraq's second city.

Local police said the blast caught a two-vehicle patrol, wrecking one armoured Land Rover and sending it crashing into a wall. The MoD said the names of the dead and injured were being withheld until their families were informed, and would not be drawn on the extent of the injuries. It said an investigation into the attack was under way.

In the past year, 10 British soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs, all but one during the past six months.British officials have complained that new armour-piercing "shaped bombs" are responsible for the sudden jump in fatalities.

They have accused neighbouring Iran or its Lebanese allies, Hizbollah, of allowing the new technology to pass into the hands of hostile elements, a charge denied by Teheran.Iraqi leaders have proposed the formation of a tripartite Iranian-Iraqi-British commission to try to ease tensions in southern Iraq.

Relations between British forces and local Shia factions have worsened amid fears that radical militias have infiltrated the Basra police force.

But British troops still have a relatively easy time compared with their American allies in the Sunni areas further north. Seven United States servicemen were killed over the weekend, six by roadside bombs. Altogether, 2,092 US personnel have died since the invasion.

The past three days have also claimed the lives of well over 120 Iraqi civilians. On Saturday, as many as 50 mourners may have died when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle near tents where people were paying condolences for the death of a Shia dignitary in Abu Sayda, north of Baghdad.

The escalation has also involved attacks on mosques and markets, with almost all the victims believed to be Shia civilians. The acts of sectarian provocation may have been aimed at undermining the Iraqi reconciliation meeting which began under Arab League auspices in Cairo on Saturday.

Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, apparently suggested yesterday that he was willing to enter dialogue with the insurgents.

"I am responsible for all Iraqis," he said. "If those who describe themselves as Iraqi resistance want to contact me, they are welcome. I want to listen to all Iraqis." Mr Talabani and other members of the transitional government have made it clear in the past that hardcore Baathists who want their old regime back, and diehard Islamists who want an Islamic state, are beyond the pale.

But they recognise that large numbers of Sunnis support what they regard as resistance activities against an unwanted foreign occupation. It is that middle ground that they hope to win over.

Fifteen failed Iraqi asylum seekers were forcibly sent home from Britain yesterday despite the protests of the UK’s leading refugee support group.

The group is believed to have been flown to the city of Irbil in the Kurdish northern area of Iraq. The Home Office said that although there were difficulties in those parts of Iraq most affected by insurgencies, this was not the case in all areas, reports the AP. Photo: Reuters I.L.

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