A secret deal with a notorious Iraqi militia group kept 4,000 British troops out of a fierce battle in the southern city of Basra earlier this year, a London newspaper reported Tuesday.Quote has been trimmed
The Times, citing anonymous senior British defence sources and American and Iraqi military contacts, said the British army had a secret "accommodation" deal with the al-Mahdi army, a militia loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The controversial deal, struck a year ago, was aimed at coercing the Shia militia back into the political process, the Times said. Under the agreement, the British army was not to go into Basra, an area where al-Sadr's militia is prominent, unless British Defence Secretary Des Browne had specifically given his permission to do so.
As a result, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were left to fight a six-day battle in March by themselves, while 4,000 British soldiers watched from the sidelines, the Times said. U.S. marines and soldiers were rushed to the area, and about 60 Iraqis and seven Americans were killed and injured in the battle — which included street battles, mortar fire and roadside bombs.
Sources told the Times that by the time Browne gave his troops the OK to get involved, the battle was over and hundreds of militia members had been...