More troops for Iraq: Hoon

Thousands more British troops could be sent to Iraq following the killing of six soldiers, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said today.

An urgent review of troop numbers and tactics was under way following the deaths of the Military Police yesterday.

The killings, in the southern town of Al Majar Al-Kabir, were the Army's heaviest combat casualties since the 1991 Gulf War.

The Prime Minister told the Commons today that his "thoughts go out" to the victims of the attacks.

Tony Blair stressed that Britain must "redouble" efforts to bring stability to Iraq.

Attacks after Iraqis shot

According to local reports, the Britons were killed in direct response to the shooting of four protesters during a demonstration.

Furious townspeople went home to collect weapons before cornering the MPs at a police station, it was said.

The violence began when the soldiers fired rubber bullets then live ammunition at demonstrators, said local trader Abu Zahraa.

At least two unarmed Iraqis were killed during the protest. Two more were either killed there or during the subsequent shoot-out.

Two British soldiers were killed at the scene of the protest, said local policeman Abbas Faddhel.

Their colleagues were chased to the nearby police station where another was shot in the doorway, fellow policeman Salam Mohammed said.

The others were killed after being cornered in a single room by Iraqi gunmen who stormed the building.

The station bore the marks of a major gun battle today, with walls full of bullet holes and broken glass mixed with dried blood on the floor.

The deaths came after soldiers from the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, were ambushed earlier in the day.

More troops 'freed up'

Mr Hoon said the end of the firefighters' strike in Britain had freed thousands of troops who had been drafted in to cover.

He told the BBC: "Obviously, depending on the results of that review, we have more troops should that be required.

"We have significant forces available should it be necessary."

Asked whether up to 5,000 more troops might be sent, Mr Hoon added: "It is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility."

Efforts to find attackers

The Defence Secretary said efforts were continuing to identify the attackers.

"First and foremost, it is important that we find out precisely what happened in this appalling incident, we find out who was responsible, and what implications that might have for our deployments elsewhere," he said.

"We have had remarkable success across southern Iraq. We have not had this kind of incident before.

"I'm not in any way being complacent about it. It was a dreadful day yesterday.

"But at the same time it is important to recognise that this is not typical, it is not widespread, it is not something we have seen in any other part of our area of operation."

In Iraq, a British military spokesman said the killing of the six soldiers was unprovoked.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ronnie McCourt said: "It was

murder."

He added: "Security measures have been increased."

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