British troops feared civilian casualties in Basra

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LONDON (AP) — A senior British army commander says his troops were unwilling to help the Iraqi army in air strikes against militias in the city of Basra because they feared killing civilians.

The Iraqi army launched a major assault in Basra in 2008 and complained bitterly at the time about Britain’s lack of support. Britain said in the past that it held back to ensure that the operation was seen as Iraqi-led.

Lieutenant General Barney White-Spunner — commander of coalition forces in southeast Iraq from February to August 2008 — told the Iraq inquiry Thursday that early Iraqi plans for an air attack could have caused “considerable civilian casualties.”

Britain’s Iraq inquiry is investigating the decisions and mistakes surrounding the Iraq war.