BAGHDAD, Iraq - Six British soldiers died while training police in southern Iraq, and eight others were wounded yesterday when Iraqis ambushed a patrol and a helicopter.
The ambush was among 25 attacks on U.S. and British soldiers during a 24-hour period, making for one of the deadliest days for the coalition since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime April 9. Three Iraqis were killed in a firefight with American soldiers west of Baghdad.
The attack near the town of Amarah was a surprise outbreak of violence in Iraq's largely Shiite south, which has largely been quiet even as American troops in central and western Iraq have come under near-daily hit-and-run attacks.
Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon told Parliament in London that the British soldiers were killed while training Iraqi police in the town of Majar al-Kabir, apparently in a police station.
Earlier, a British army spokesman in Basra said the soldiers were killed by Iraqi fire.
The ambush took place in the same town, about 90 miles north of the city of Basra.
A "large number of Iraqi gunmen" fired rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and rifle fire at a British patrol, wounding one soldier, Hoon said.
A rapid reaction force, including Scimitar light tanks and a Chinook CH-47 helicopter, came to help the ground troops but was also fired on, Hoon said. Seven people on board the helicopter were wounded, three of them seriously, the government said.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, extended condolences to the families of the British soldiers killed.
"These losses are a reminder that Iraq remains a dangerous place," Myers said at the Pentagon. "But we must continue to stand firm. Our forces' role in establishing and maintaining security is critical to the stability and security of Iraq, and also to our war on terrorism."
It was the deadliest day for coalition forces since May 19, when six U.S. Marines died, most in a helicopter crash and a vehicle accident.
The deadliest single attack on the coalition came March 23, the early days of the U.S.-led invasion, when Iraqis opened fire on a U.S. Army maintenance unit near the southern town of Nasiriyah, killing 11 soldiers. Several soldiers were captured, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who later was rescued by American commandos.
At least 18 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraqi attacks since May 1, when major combat was declared over. Those attacks have largely been blamed on Hussein loyalists and occurred mainly in the belt of central and western Iraq known as the "Sunni Triangle" where Hussein had his strongest support.
The British have not seen major violence for weeks. Their troops have felt secure enough to patrol the country's second-biggest city, Basra, without flak jackets or helmets.
"It's normally very quiet down here," said British Army Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt, in Basra. "We've been here nearly two months now, and this is the first time people have been deliberately ... shooting at us."
British Army Capt. Dennis Abbott insisted the day of attacks "in no way reflects the general security situation across the U.K. area of operations."
Forty-two British troops have died - 19 in accidents - since the war began March 20. Britain had suffered no confirmed combat deaths since April 6.
Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, saw an uprising against Hussein's rule in the early days of the coalition invasion of Iraq. By the time U.S. Marines reached the city in early April, local Shiites had seized control.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun