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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Majar al-Kabir: From quiet to carnage
The police station where the stand-off took place
The policemen are believed to have battled the mob for two hours
Sergeant Tim, as he was known by the local policeman whom he and his five colleagues were training, urged one of the young Iraqi recruits, Abbas Bairphy, to find him a radio.

An angry and jeering mob, perhaps some 300-strong, had gathered outside the police station in the southern Iraqi town of Majar al-Kabir, and Sergeant Tim, whose own radio was in a burning vehicle outside, was desperate to contact his superiors for assistance.

But there was no radio, a distraught Mr Bairphy told him, shortly before he fled. And no help came. Within two hours, Sergeant Tim and the five other members of the Royal Military Police would be dead.

The events of that morning are still shrouded in confusion.

But from the fragmented accounts of the army, local people, and journalists who visited the scene, at least one credible version of the circumstances leading up to the incident, the worst single hostile attack sustained by British forces in more than a decade, is emerging.

Friends to foes

When British troops initially entered this town, a Shia stronghold which had suffered greatly under the rule of Saddam Hussein, they were treated as liberators.

BRITISH TROOPS UNDER FIRE
0900 British military policemen arrive for "patrol"
1000 Angry crowd gathers to protest
1015 Locals say British soldiers fire on crowd in market place
1100 Crowd storms police station where other policemen are training locals
1300 Bodies are removed from the building

But attempts by troops to seize weapons in house searches in the two months since the dictator was toppled had started to incur the wrath of locals, many of whom see the possession of weapons as a fundamental right, particularly amid the insecurity that has plagued Iraq since the war ended.

The army's use of sniffer dogs, an animal regarded by the Shia as unclean and therefore offensive, is thought to have exacerbated the tensions, as is the fact that troops would have seen unveiled wives and daughters as they carried out their raids - breaking a taboo among the Islamic faithful.

Although the British deny reports of heavy-handedness, officials were clearly worried enough about the tensions to take part in a meeting on Monday of this week to discuss the issue with local leaders.

It appeared an agreement, written or otherwise, was reached. The deal stipulated that a whole range of heavy weapons should be handed in to the authorities, and noted that the British wanted to see the results of this amnesty within a month.

This clause appears to have been interpreted by the locals as meaning there would be no searches in the town for at least four weeks.

'Misunderstanding'

But on Tuesday morning, at around 9am local time, a British platoon arrived in Majar al-Kabir.

According to Major-General Peter Wall, the troops had arrived to take part in what he called a "routine joint patrol" in the town, but had not intended to search the houses.

They had intended to conduct a routine joint patrol in the town, working with the local militia... the crowd violence appears to have stemmed from a misunderstanding
Major-General Peter Wall

Soldiers either deviated from this intention, or, as General Wall insists, local people "misunderstood" the nature of the patrol mission.

Either way, by 10am, an angry crowd carrying stones and guns had gathered in the centre of the town.

The events that unfolded in the short space of time that followed are distinctly unclear.

Locals say the decisive moment came when one of the soldiers pointed his weapon at a child.

A shot was fired. This may have been from one of the demonstrators, or it may have been a warning shot from one of the soldiers.

Shooting then erupted on both sides.

Over a dozen people were hit, including children, and at least four men are believed to have died.

They included a 50-year-old ambulance driver, Ghazi Moussa Hassan, who apparently got caught up in the crossfire as he made his way home across town from a nightshift, hospital sources said.

The soldiers did manage to radio for assistance, and reinforcements in the form of armoured vehicles and a Chinook helicopter came to help, but were fired upon as well, leaving eight wounded.

The soldiers caught up in the clash nonetheless did manage to extricate themselves from the scene.

By 11am they had fled the town, just as Sergeant Tim and his five colleagues were wrapping up their visit to the local police station.

Alone

The troops may not have known that their six colleagues were training Iraqi police nearby, they may have forgotten about them in the heat of the moment, or they may have concluded it was impossible to return to the town without great risk of loss of life.

RMP TROOPS KILLED IN IRAQ
Corporal Simon Miller, 21
Tyne and Wear
Sergeant Simon Alexander Hamilton-Jewell, 41
from Chessington, Surrey
Corporal Russell Aston, 30
Swadlincote, Derbyshire
Corporal Paul Graham Long, 24
Colchester
Lance-Corporal Benjamin John McGowan Hyde, 23
Northallerton, Yorks
Lance-Corporal Thomas Richard Keys, 20
Bala, N Wales

But certainly the incensed mob that had gathered were aware that there were British police working in the town that morning.

They headed for the building, some apparently stopping off at home to pick up more weapons - the very arms the British had been trying to confiscate.

There are very few accounts as to what happened next. The British are dead, and no-one from the mob who descended on the police station has volunteered the story.

According to the 25-year-old Mr Bairphy, who spoke to several British newspapers, two of the British policemen went up on to the roof to try to fend off the attackers, while the others took up positions on the ground floor.

He said that after he told Sergeant Tim that there was no radio, he begged the British men to flee with them through the back of the building.

But they refused him.

Sergeant Tim, he said, told him it was the duty of the British policeman to hold their ground.

It appears they did just that for two hours but by 1pm, all six were dead, "executed", according to one army spokesman.

The exact nature of their deaths may never be clarified, but the burnt, bullet-ridden and bloody shell of the building where they died is testimony to the post-war carnage which could be unleashed in a town which did not see a single bullet fired during the conflict.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Clive Myrie
"Hopelessly outnumbered by the mob"



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