The story was almost buried in the lull surrounding the Christmas holiday. British and Iraqi troops stormed a building in Basra that had been taken over by a Shiite militia. The London Telegraph reported the story on Christmas evening; the New York Times on the day after Christmas.
After hearing rumors some prisoners were about to be executed, a combined force of 1000 British and Iraqi troops stormed the police headquarters of the serious crimes unit in a pre-dawn raid. They discovered 127 prisoners in a dungeon. The prisoners showed signs of torture.
This area of Iraq has been said to be free of “sectarian violence”–the rival groups are all Shiite. Locals are reported to have said they’re afraid of the police who use their positions to get vengeance for tribal rivalries. It has also been said the independent militia is under the control of Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army.
The Telegraph article also mentions four Iranians, including two the Bush administration called “senior military officials” who were detained by U.S. forces. Two Iranian diplomats detained at the same time were turned over to the Iraqi government and released.
And now Iran.
(The NYT article is no longer online at the same location. Here is a reprint of the summary):
BRITISH SOLDIERS STORM IRAQI JAIL, CITING TORTURE
December 26, 2006, Tuesday
Late Edition – Final, Section A, Page 1, Column 6, 1196 words
DISPLAYING ABSTRACT – British and Iraqi soldiers storm police station in Basra to rescue 127 prisoners from what British say was almost certain execution, in one of most significant military actions undertaken by British troops since 2003 invasion; combined British and Iraqi forces discover fetid dungeon with one small cell holding more than 100 men, many of them showing signs of torture; discovery is latest example of abuses by Iraqi security forces, and highlights continuing struggle to combat infiltration of police and army by militias and criminal elements, even in Shiite city like Basra, where there has been no sectarian violence; focus of attack in Basra was arm of local police called serious crimes unit, which British officials say had been thoroughly infiltrated by criminals and militias who used it to terrorize local residents and violently settle scores with political or tribal rivals; local residents say they feared to challenge officers because they were backed by powerful militia groups, including Mahdi Army led by Moktada al-Sadr, though extent of his control is unclear.