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Bedlam Follows Basra Intrigue

Of all the insane stories that have come out of the war in Iraq, this might just be the craziest.soldier_fire.jpg"Two unknown gunmen in full Arabic dress began firing on civilians in central Basra, wounding several, including a traffic police officer," CNN reports. "The two gunmen fled the scene but were captured and taken in for questioning, admitting they were British Marines carrying out a 'special security task.'""Iraqi security officials... accused the two Britons they detained of... trying to plant explosives," the Washington Post notes.Members of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to the rebellious Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, then "converged on the police station holding the British men, apparently hoping to seize them in order to free... three colleagues in British custody," the New York Times says. "[They] begun attacking the station with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and... British troops soon responded to defend it..."British armored vehicles... fired on the station, headquarters of the major crimes unit in central Basra, and [broke] through its outer wall. Troops then stormed in and freed the two [Marines]."brit_marine_captive.jpgThe pair were "sprung only hours after British forces had encircled the building but were forced to flee by a violent mob hurling stones and Molotov cocktails," the Times of London reports. "Two Iraqi civilians were reportedly killed in the riots, during which two UK Warrior armoured vehicles were set alight."According to the AP, "150 Iraqi prisoners [also] fled as British commandos stormed inside and rescued their comrades."THERE'S MORE: The BBC says the marines were actually being held in a militia safehouse. It's one of a number of discrepancies in the news accounts of this confusing story. There are sure to be more.Juan Cole has put together a timeline of the events, and a possible explanation.

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