Page last updated at 19:40 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 20:40 UK

Western forces 'in Basra raids'

Iraqi army soldiers take position during a security patrol in Basra (20 Apr 2008)
Iraqi forces now have a presence throughout Basra, reports say

US and UK special forces are carrying out operations in Basra in southern Iraq against Shia militiamen, a Western military source has told the BBC.

The aim is to detain senior figures in the Mehdi Army and other Shia militias, and members of a local tribe.

Iraqi forces now have a presence throughout the city, local reports say. Fighting is continuing in Shia areas of Baghdad. The US military said it had killed five suspected militiamen overnight in the district of Sadr City.

Three were shot dead in a gun battle; two others were killed in an air attack.

Intelligence gathering

The intervention of Western special forces in Basra shows the level of concern the Americans and British have about the capabilities of the Iraqi forces, says the BBC's Crispin Thorold in Baghdad.

British, US and Iraqi troops join forces in Basra

For the past month, Iraqi security forces backed up by coalition troops have been fighting militiamen.

The special forces are also believed to be gathering intelligence to support ground operations, the Western military source told the BBC.

Basra was the scene of intense fighting some three weeks ago, after Iraqi forces made an attempt to disarm militias operating in the city.

At that time, the BBC understands that 550 US troops embedded with the Iraqi army also joined in the battle.

That operation ground to a halt when the army faced considerable resistance from the militias, including the Mehdi Army.

The fighting spread to various parts of Iraq, hundreds of people were killed and thousands of civilians were trapped in their homes for days.

The militias were never disarmed, only promising to take their weapons off the streets.

The operation was criticised by US commanders as poorly planned and as failing to achieve its stated aims.

There are understood to be about 150 British troops from the Royal Regiment of Scotland embedded with Iraqi units in Basra.

Some are mentoring Iraqi soldiers while others are protecting local personnel engaged in combat operations.

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