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UK forces step up hunt for soldiers' killers
Local leaders get 48-hour ultimatum
UK may deploy extra troops
MoD names six dead
Wednesday June 25, 2003
UK forces have given civilian leaders in a southern Iraqi town 48 hours to hand over the gunmen who killed six British military police officers, a municipal official said today.
Residents of Majar al-Kabir and police said that the soldiers were killed in retaliation after a violent demonstration left four Iraqi civilians dead yesterday.
British military officials were today meeting with seven members of the city's administrative council in nearby Amara, seeking the killers' surrender, Qassem Nimeh, an official in the mayor's office in Majar al-Kabir, said.
Townspeople were furious over the deaths of the four civilians during yesterday's protest. The demonstration, the second in two days, had apparently been sparked by soldiers' searches for heavy weapons in villagers' homes, Abu Zahraa, a 30-year-old local vendor, said.
"This angered the people, because they went into women's rooms," Mr Zahraa explained. "The people considered it an invasion of privacy."
The Ministry of Defence named the dead today as: Sergeant Simon Alexander Hamilton-Jewell, from Chessington; Corporal Russell Aston, from Swadlincote; Corporal Paul Graham Long, from Colchester; Corporal Simon Miller, from Tyne and Wear; Lance-Corporal Benjamin John McGowan Hyde, from Northallerton; and Lance-Corporal Thomas Richard Keys, from Bala.
All the men were from the Royal Military Police and part of 156 Provost Company, attached to 16 Air Assault Brigade, based in Colchester, Essex. Their bodies were recovered from a police station in Majar al-Kabir yesterday, the MoD said.
Earlier today, the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, said that thousands more troops could be required in Iraq after the soldiers were killed, and another eight injured, in two attacks in Majar al-Kabir.
Mr Hoon also said that an urgent review into the safety of British forces following the attacks was under way.
"We have significant forces available should it be necessary," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, adding that no decision would be made until the review was concluded.
Mr Hoon would not put a figure on the number of troops that may be required, but admitted that 5,000 was "certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility".
Adding that fire strikes which had tied up troops on the home front, were no longer a factor, he said: "Bear in mind that, right through the deployment to Iraq, we had some 19,000 forces earmarked to fight fires."
Police officer Abbas Faddhel said that British troops had shot dead four civilian protesters during the demonstration in Majar al-Kabir.
Armed civilians killed two of the British soldiers at the scene of the protest, which happened in front of the mayor's office, and then chased four others to a police station where they killed them after a two-hour gun battle, he said.
Mr Zahraa and another witness, who was not named, said that the British soldiers came under attack and retreated to the police station.
Townspeople then returned to the police station with assault rifles and attacked the besieged soldiers, all of whom died, the witnesses said.
In another incident in the same town, eight British soldiers were injured after being ambushed by guerrilla forces. British officials were unsure whether the two incidents were related.
Mr Hoon today said that efforts to identify the attackers were continuing.
"First and foremost, it is important that we find out precisely what happened in this appalling incident, that we find out who was responsible, and what implications that might have for our deployments elsewhere," he said.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast News, Mr Hoon said that people in Iraq routinely carried weapons such as machine guns as part of a "highly militarised society".
"A minor incident can very quickly escalate into the kind of appalling events of yesterday where so many people routinely carry really quite heavy weapons," he said.
Mr Hoon said that the full protection of individual soldiers was being considered. British forces could be more heavily armed after the attacks, including a return to the wearing of helmets rather than berets.