Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 18:46 UK

Basra base attack kills civilians

Two civilians have been killed and a British serviceman suffered minor injuries in a rocket attack on the UK's Basra Airport base in Iraq.

Iraqi police say up to 20 rockets were launched at the base at about 1415 local time (1215 BST).

Iraqi and British army units responded by sealing off part of the Zubair district of the city, from where the katyusha rockets had been fired.

The injured serviceman is believed to be classed as "walking wounded".

Air precautions

The Ministry of Defence said no UK personnel had been seriously injured.

Some 4,000 UK troops are currently based in Iraq, the majority on the outskirts of Basra, at the airport.

Some 1,600 troops were withdrawn in 2007 after the completion of Operation Sinbad, which had been designed to put Iraqis in charge of Basra's security.

It is not yet known if the two civilian workers killed in the attack were Iraqi nationals.

The British military spokesman in Iraq, Major Tom Holloway, said: "The attack has resulted in a number of casualties but we will not provide any further details on them at this time."

Air cover was provided following the attack, although there were no reports of any air strikes.

'Encouraging signs'

Local people have said militiamen from the Mehdi Army, who have recently been forced out of their traditional bases by Iraqi and coalition troops, have been attempting to establish themselves in the Zubair district.

Speaking in the House of Commons about the situation in Basra, prior to the attack, Defence Secretary Des Browne said Iraqi security forces had on Sunday concluded a "sector by sector" clearance of the city, which was "returning to normal".

Mr Browne told MPs: "The current situation in Basra is that the grip of the militias has been broken with the leadership in flight or in hiding and huge quantities of illegal weaponry have been recovered."

He said there were "early but encouraging signs" that life in the city was "returning to normal".





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