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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK
Eyewitness: Walls riddled with bullets

By Clive Myrie
BBC correspondent in Majar al-Kabir

Majar al-Kabir is a dusty little town of some 60,000 people that few outsiders had heard of until now.

Burnt out vehicles
By all accounts the attack on the British troops was frenzied

What happened in a police station here yesterday morning has made this place infamous.

Inside, local people are gathering to find out exactly what happened and some of them are still armed.

Salah Mohammad is a local community leader appointed by British forces.

He told me that in recent days troops had ignored a written agreement to give adequate notice before they searched people's homes for illegal weapons.

"Yesterday hundreds of people protested in front of the police station," he told me.

The gulf between the two communities is huge - one which will be difficult for the British to bridge

"The soldiers fired shots and the people fired back. They then attacked the building."

The local people say four Iraqis were killed and four were injured.

By all accounts the attack on the police station was frenzied. Scores of people armed to the teeth flooded in and the British military policemen taking cover in the desolate building didn't stand a chance.

Four of them died in a small room at the station and two more were killed outside in the yard.

The British authorities say it was an unprovoked attack by the crowd - cold-blooded murder.

Two incidents which saw British soldiers attacked in Majar al-Kabir on Tuesday are under investigation. This is what is known so far.

The room was then set on fire. Iraqi identity papers lie strewn around the building, some still covered in blood.

Empty bullet casings litter the ground and the walls are pock-marked with scars from incoming rounds.

Who knows where the truth lies about exactly what happened? What we know is that there is great resentment in the town against British rule.

"We refuse imperialism," said one Iraqi to me.

"We thank the Americans and British but we want an Iraqi government here," said another.

And many more are voicing their opinions. "We don't want the British here," they shouted at an impromptu demonstration.

Tuesday's killings show just how volatile southern Iraq still is for coalition troops. The scope for misunderstanding and tragic loss of life is huge.

Resentment

I spent most of the morning in the police station where the killings happened.

It is difficult to adequately describe the level of resentment which exists in this town towards coalition troops - the British in particular.

Graffiti covers many walls here telling the British troops to get out. Some say it is against Islam for soldiers to storm into people's homes looking for weapons.

This is a deep-seated resentment which, according to the townsfolk, kick-started the events on Tuesday.

The British are saying the attacks were unprovoked and the troops have been trying to respect local customs.

But the gulf between the two communities is huge - one which will be difficult for the British to bridge.

And chants of "British go home" are likely to become ever more frequent.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Clive Myrie
"The scope for misunderstandings and tragic loss of life is huge"


Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"We do not want to undermine all the work done by British forces"



SEE ALSO:
UK troops 'killed by civilians'
25 Jun 03  |  Middle East


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