Insurgents detonated a roadside bomb Sunday as a convoy of contractors and private security guards sped down a busy highway outside Basra, killing two Western civilians and wounding at least one.
The blast flipped one of the convoy’s four-wheel-drive vehicles, crushing some of the passengers. Their identities were not immediately available.
The attack occurred about 9 a.m., almost simultaneously with a suicide car bombing at a British army checkpoint near Baghdad. Two soldiers were seriously wounded in the suicide blast and were expected to be evacuated to a hospital in Germany.
British military officials are questioning whether the violence in the so-called Sunni Triangle west and north of the capital is moving toward their 8,500 troops based in the south. The British expanded their mission last week by redeploying about 850 members of the Black Watch unit near Baghdad so American troops could be freed up for a planned assault on Fallouja.
Many British soldiers worry that the decision to redeploy troops near the capital has made them targets. Sunday’s suicide bombing was the second directed against the Black Watch in four days. One of those attacks killed three British soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter.
The British also say the number of roadside bombings in their sector has increased from an average of four a week in late summer to between 10 and 12 a week.
“It is the Wahhabis who are responsible for these attacks,” said Wisam Raad, a police interpreter in the rural town of Zubayr outside Basra, referring to a branch of Sunni Muslims who are a minority in the area.
Sunday’s attack occurred on a main artery that British soldiers frequently use. Two British Army Land Rovers came upon the scene moments after the bomb exploded, weaving through stalled traffic to escape any further ambush.
The heightened risk of attack is one reason the British had resisted previous American requests to take on new responsibilities in Iraq. For months, U.S. military planners in Baghdad discussed ways to get the British to increase their involvement, but such plans were rejected by British generals.
The redeployment of troops, delivered as a formal request from American planners, proved difficult to turn down.
Wallace, The Times’ Tokyo Bureau chief, is on assignment in Iraq.