News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqBritish press says Iran behind Iraq attack as detainees...

British press says Iran behind Iraq attack as detainees return

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AFP: The return of 15 British naval personnel from Iran was overshadowed in the press here Friday by the deaths of four troops in Iraq, including two women, which they said may have had Iranian involvement. LONDON, April 6, 2007 (AFP) – The return of 15 British naval personnel from Iran was overshadowed in the press here Friday by the deaths of four troops in Iraq, including two women, which they said may have had Iranian involvement.

All newspapers carried Prime Minister Tony Blair’s comments after learning of the deaths on Thursday just as the 15 arrived back in Britain after being held for 13 days in the Islamic republic.

Blair said it was too early to say if the attack in Basra was committed by Iran-backed insurgents, but he repeated his assertion that elements in Tehran were “backing, financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq”.

The Guardian said the bomb attacks, which bring the total number of British dead in Iraq this week to six and the overall death toll since 2003 to 140, seemed to be the work of Shia “rogue militia” suspected of links with Iran.

One unnamed senior army source in Basra was quoted by the left-of-centre publication as saying: “Intelligence suggests (weapons) are coming from Iran but there is very little hard evidence.”

The Daily Telegraph, which has strong links to the military brass, said: “It is becoming increasingly apparent that Iran is playing a major role in fomenting the insurgency in southern Iraq by providing terrorists with bombs and advanced technological knowledge.

A conservative, right-of-centre newspaper, it also said the deaths of the two British servicewomen would raise questions about putting female troops on the front line.

The Independent, a left-of-centre newspaper which opposed the war, said reports indicated the roadside bombing was caused by charges similar to those the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have allegedly supplied to Shia militia.

It also said the area in which the attack happened — the Hayaniyah district of Basra — is a stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, which is fighting a rival Shia militia, the Badr Brigade.

“The Iranians, it is claimed, back both factions and have encouraged them to carry out attacks on British forces,” it added.

The Times also led on the deaths, saying the bombings had fuelled the row with Iran before focusing on the navy inquiry into how the 15 personnel came to be detained.

The middle market and tabloids were less circumspect.

The Daily Mail showed a picture of Iraqis holding up fragments of the British soldiers’ Warrior armoured vehicle and a camouflage helmet under the headline “Iran’s Real Easter Gift”.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday he was releasing the 15 naval personnel as a “gift” to the British people but the paper said the blast showed “his regime’s true feelings towards our servicemen and women”.

“The blast exposed Ahmadinejad’s conciliatory words as callous hypocrisy,” it added.

The Sun, newspaper of the rank-and-file troops, said Ahmadinejad has “our blood on his hands”, claiming the bomb attack was “almost certainly engineered” by the Iranian president.

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