BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Roadside bombs killed nine British and American soldiers and gunmen shot dead 10 Iraqi troops in one of the bloodiest 48-hour periods for coalition and Iraqi security forces in recent months.
Four British soldiers and an interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb that destroyed their armored fighting vehicle when they were ambushed on the outskirts of Basra, said British military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Kevin Stratford-Wright.
“The unit was involved in an operation elsewhere. As they were on their way back from the operation it was targeted by a roadside bomb in conjunction with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades,” he said from Basra.
The nationality of the interpreter was not clear, he said.
The British military denied accusations by Iraqi police that British troops had stormed a police checkpoint close to the scene of the attack shortly afterwards and beaten some police.
Six British soldiers have been killed in Iraq this week, making it one of the deadliest for British forces to date.
At least 140 British soldiers have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. More than 3,260 U.S. soldiers have been killed.
Gunmen also killed 10 Iraqi soldiers and wounded one in an attack on Thursday on their checkpoint near Mosul, an army source said.
The source said at least 40 gunmen attacked the checkpoint at dawn northwest of Mosul, setting vehicles on fire and seizing the soldiers’ weapons.
“Apparently the soldiers were asleep when the attack happened. They were taken by surprise and did not have a chance to respond,” said the army source, who declined to be named.
Two roadside bombs in and around Baghdad killed four American soldiers on Wednesday, the U.S. military said. A similar bomb in Diyala Province to the east killed another on Thursday.
Those attacks followed a relatively quiet period in Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have deployed thousands more troops to enforce a security crackdown regarded as a last-ditch attempt to stop the country tearing itself apart.
Sectarian violence between Sunni Arabs and majority Shi’ite Muslims has escalated since the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine a year ago. Since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and millions displaced.
The attack in Basra tempered jubilation among British troops in Iraq after Iran sent home 15 British military personnel it had held for two weeks after seizing them in the northern Gulf.
“We heard two explosions that shook the house. I went out and saw one armored vehicle that was completely destroyed and another with less damage,” said one resident.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said in February Britain would begin withdrawing a quarter of its 7,000 troops, who are stationed mainly in the Basra area, in coming months so Iraqis could eventually take full control of Basra province.
Iraq’s government announced on Wednesday that Iraqi forces would assume control of southern Maysan province from British troops later in April. British forces have already handed back two other southern provinces.
The U.S. military said an army helicopter with nine people on board went down south of Baghdad. Four were injured.
A statement did not give the cause of the incident or any other details. Witnesses reported seeing heavy gunfire force the aircraft down in an insurgent stronghold south of the capital.
Additional reporting by Aseel Kami, Yara Bayoumy and Mariam Karouny in Baghdad