BASRA, Iraq - A joint British-Iraqi force shot dead the commander of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia in the main southern city of Basra on Friday, police and the British military said.
"He has been killed, we didn't kill him, the Iraqi special operations forces killed him," British spokesman Major David Gell said, adding that 100 British troops were involved in the operation.
The local police force, which has been heavily infiltrated by the Mahdi Army, said that it was British troops who killed Osama Abu Qader.
"He was killed by the British together with two of his aides," said a police officer in the city.
An official of the movement of Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr, which runs the Mahdi Army, also blamed British troops.
"The British forces surrounded Abu Qader, who was driving his car with four others," the official said from the movement's headquarters in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
The official confirmed that Abu Qader was the Mahdi Army's commander in Basra but added that he had recently been suspended due to his involvement in clashes with the rival Fadhila party.
Sadr supporters in Basra reported a tense situation in the port city with large numbers of armed militiamen taking to the streets.