British soldiers used tanks to break down the walls of the central jail in the southern Iraq city of Basra late Monday and freed two Britons who had been arrested on charges of shooting two Iraqi policemen.
About 150 Iraqi prisoners fled as British commandos stormed inside and rescued the pair, said to be undercover commandos.
Earlier Monday, demonstrators hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at British tanks, and at least four people were killed.
The fighting in the oil city of Basra erupted after British armour surrounded the jail where the two Britons were being held, reports CBC.
A British military spokesman in Basra confirmed that "two U.K. military personnel" had been detained early on Monday "in a shooting incident" and that troops had used an armored fighting vehicle "to gain entry" to the police station to release them. He said that more than one vehicle had been in the area and that the police inside the station had refused to obey orders from the Interior Ministry to release the men.
The incident came a day after British forces in Basra arrested three members of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to the rebellious Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, on suspicion of terrorism.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the riot began Monday evening when militia members converged on the police station holding the British men, apparently hoping to seize them in order to free their three colleagues in British custody. The British spokesman said there had been 100 to 200 people in the crowd.
Ali Dabagh, a Shiite member of the National Assembly who had just emerged from a briefing with Interior Minister Bayan Jabr in Baghdad on Monday night, said that militia members had begun attacking the station with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and that British troops soon responded to defend it.
The ministry official said that British armored vehicles had fired on the station, headquarters of the major crimes unit in central Basra, and broken through its outer wall. Troops then stormed in and freed the two men, he said. There were reports of prisoners escaping, but the official denied them, informs the New York Times.
Photo: the AP