Basra prison incident
On 19 September 2005, two undercover British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers disguised in Arab civilian garments and headdresses opened fire on Iraqi Police officers after having been stopped at a roadblock. Iraqi police found explosives in the British soldiers vehicle. Two Iraqi officers were shot, at least one of whom died. The two British men were arrested and taken to the Al Jameat police station.
The two SAS operators were part of Operation Hathor whose objective was keeping an Iraqi Police officer (who ran a crime unit with rumoured links to corruption and brutality in the city) under surveillance. Tension was already high between the Iraqi Police and British forces and when Iraqi policeman tried to pull the operators from their vehicle at the roadblock, they opened fire, killing two of the policemen. The SAS men drove off with Iraqi Police in pursuit, but feeling they could not outrun them they decided to stop and talk their way out of it. The Iraqi police beat and arrested them.
In response, twenty members of A Squadron 22nd SAS Regiment and a platoon of paratroopers from the Special Forces Support Group flew from Baghdad to Basra. Other SAS operators tracked down their two colleagues to Al Jameat police station and then withdrew and called in Hathor's QRF (Quick Reaction Force) in Basra, whilst a predator drone fed the UK JOC a live feed on the prison.
Members of The 1st Battalion The Staffordshire Regiment were the spearhead of the operation, taking the lead in the operation to retrieve the 2 SAS soldiers; after significant small arms fire and RPG attacks the men from the Battalion assaulted the police station securing it ensuring the safe extraction of the 2 SAS soldiers.
British tanks and infantry encircled the jail where the men (whose photographs had been widely circulated but whose names had not been made public) were being held. A crowd gathered and began throwing stones and petrol bombs at the tanks, setting at least one ablaze. Three British soldiers were injured and, according to some reports, two demonstrators were killed.
New intelligence suggested that the two prisoners had been moved to a house not far from the prison and the British feared that they would be executed by Iraqi Hezbollah. Because of this, the rescue plan was altered so that a few members of A Squadron would assault the prison with regular army personnel and vehicles while the main SAS ground force assaulted the house. After nightfall, around 9pm, the British Army stormed the prison and house where the SAS men were being held. The SAS assault on the house met no resistance; they found the two prisoners in a locked room.
According to the governor of Basra province, Mohammed al-Waili, the British had used "more than ten tanks backed by helicopters" to carry out the raid. The assault on the prison was spearheaded by Warrior IFV's and Challenger tanks breaking down the walls and destroying cars and flimsy buildings. The British assault allowed 150 prisoners to flee the prison.
The Ministry of Defence initially denied storming the prison. In later statements, it said that the soldiers would have likely been killed, and that the police force had been infiltrated by illegal militia groups.
Muhammad al-Waili[who?] denounced the event as "barbaric, savage and irresponsible".
As part of Operation Sinbad, on 25 December 2006, British troops from The 1st Battalion The Staffordshire Regiment again raided the Al Jameat station, killing seven gunmen and freeing 127 prisoners being held by Shia militias there. They then blew up the building. A British Army spokesperson stated that the 127 prisoners freed had been tortured and that there were fears that they were about to be executed.
- "British soldiers free two from Basra jail". USA Today. 19 September 2005. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967, p. 96, pp. 104–106
- Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967, p. 95, pp. 99–101
- The British Embassy requested the men's release but they were ignored by the Iraqi interior ministry and the Iraqi police prepared to withstand an attack. By mid afternoon, British commanders gave the authority to assault the police station Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967, pp. 103–104
- Urban, Mark, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq , St. Martin's Griffin , 2012 ISBN 1250006961 ISBN 978-1250006967, pp. 104–106
- "British tanks storm Basra jail to free undercover soldiers" (20 September 2005). The Guardian.
- "UK denies storming Iraqi jail to free soldiers" (20 September 2005). ABC News Online
- SAS stormed prison to save soldiers from execution" (21 September 2005). Times Online.
- "British troops attack Iraqi police station in Basra" (25 December 2006). International Herald Tribune.
- "Discussions to follow Basra raid" (26 December 2006). BBC News.