Iraqis celebrate deaths of British troops

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Sunday, May 7, 2006

A British military helicopter crashed in Basra on Saturday killing four crew members. Local Iraqis filled the surrounding streets celebrating the crash before a clash occurred with British troops upon their arrival.

"We can confirm it was a British military helicopter that has crashed and an investigation is ongoing," a British military spokesman in London said.

An AFP reporter on the scene heard from a local policeman that the helicopter was hit by a rocket fired by local militia.

According to Basra police spokesman Lieut. Colonel Kareem al-Zaidi, "a multinational forces helicopter was hit by a rocket and went down on houses in central Basra". He also added that fire-fighters later found the four British crew members charred in the wreckage and that no causalities on the ground resulted from the impact.

Earlier, an AFP journalist sighted the downed British military helicopter and reported he saw two burnt crew members after the impact which caused the helicopter to burst into flames.

After the crash, it is reported that hundreds of people from the local area, many of them youths, celebrated the helicopter's downing in the streets surrounding the crash.

On the arrival of British troops at the scene, including two tanks and one land rover, the crowd allegedly attacked the British forces with rocks, debris and petrol bombs.

A British spokeswoman, Capt. Kelly Goodall, said British soldiers who responded came "under attack by a variety of weapons, including small arms fire, petrol bombs, as well as blast bombs and stone."

British soldiers used foam to extinguish their vehicles, escaping uninjured.

Members of the crowd allegedly shouted slogans such as "victory for the Mehdi Army!" and "we are all soldiers of al-Sayed" in support of local militants lead by Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

During the conflict, An AFP photographer was shot and wounded in the leg by a rubber-coated bullet. Contrary to reports from the British defence department, the journalist said that British soldiers raised their rifles and shot one man dead and also later shot the driver of a car in a local street dead.

As conflict was escalated, British and Shi'ite gunmen exchanged fire which resulted in the addition deaths of four Iraqis including two children. An estimated 30 civilians were reportedly injured in the melee.

An Iraqi policeman in Basra said the helicopter was downed by a rocket and said four Iraqi civilians, including two children, were killed and another 19 wounded in the fighting.

Military forces later cordoned off the scene and imposed a curfew on the surrounding area in Basra.

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