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Britain's Straw sees resolution to Iraq stand-off

By Staff
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BAGHDAD, Feb 21 (Reuters) British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today he believed a dispute could be resolved between British troops and Iraqi officials angry at a video showing soldiers beating Iraqi youths.

''This is the third occasion on which Basra council have announced a lack of cooperation,'' Straw said in Baghdad, referring to the refusal of municipal authorities to work with British forces occupying the southern port city.

''It has something to do with the videos. It was two years ago and they know that. It has quite lot to do with some pushing for position and I think the situation can be resolved,'' he told reporters after talks with Iraqi leaders, including officials from Shi'ite parties dominant in the south.

Iraqis were angered last week after a British newspaper released a video showing British soldiers beating young men.

Straw said that those Iraqis he had spoken to agreed that security negotiations with the occupying forces should be handled by the central government in Baghdad, not local officials.

He said British commanders had said they had not experienced major difficulties as a result of the stand-off and he denied a suggestion that British police deployed in the city might have to be withdrawn because of the heightened tension.

Straw said friction between Iraqi and British officials in Basra also stemmed from troops' detaining political figures: ''It has quite a lot to do with the fact that although there are a very low number of people in detention in British custody, some of these may be involved in local politics as well,'' he said.

Though calmer than northern and western regions where U.S.

troops have faced a bloody insurgency among the once dominant Sunni Arab minority, southern Iraq has seen considerable tension between British forces and rival Shi'ite militias jostling each other for power and keen to exercise it without foreign control.

REUTERS PDS RAI0120

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