Subversion from nearby Iran has been blamed for a recent increase in attacks on British forces in southern Iraq, including the use of more sophisticated and deadly roadside bombs, which have claim- ed the lives of three soldiers. Initial assumptions that the undercover pair were working to combat such influence have been contradicted by military and other sources,
however. Not only are they sceptical about the Iranian connection, pointing out that there is more than enough explosive and bomb-making expertise available in Iraq, but they say the surveillance operation was the result of a problem largely of Britain's own making.
The occupation authorities have turned a blind eye
while Shia militias - including one loyal to the Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, who appeared in London last week with the Defence Secretary, John Reid, to condemn the violence - have infiltrated the police in southern Iraq. Another group supports the maverick Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr; it is hardly surprising that Basra's police chief admitted last week that he could count on the loyalty of only a quarter of his men.
among the poorly trained and ill-disciplined police is another concern. "They sell their uni- forms to insurgents for $25 while also taking the wage as a police officer supporting the multinational force," said one British squaddie. "So why do we bother?"
It is the adherents of Ahmed al-Fartusi, who broke away from Mr Sadr's Mahdi Army, who are the greatest danger. According to sources in Basra, they had turned the Jamiat police station in south-western Basra into a hotbed for smuggling, political assassination and organised crime,
and trouble was already feared when Mr Fartusi and another suspect were arrested last Sunday. The seizure of the surveillance team outside the station lit the touchpaper. British forces surround- ed the compound, and were attacked by crowds of Iraqis.