"All regular meetings between the governorate and British troops have been cancelled and we will not allow British soldiers into the governorate building or any other public office in Basra," Nadim al-Jaabari, spokesman for the provincial governor, told AFP on Thursday.

The head of the 41-member provincial council, Mohammed Saadun al-Abidi, confirmed the decision to refuse all contacts with British forces which are responsible for security in the region.

"Yesterday, the provincial council voted in session to boycott British troops and we are demanding that they return the two British soldiers to Iraqi custody," Abidi said.

Protests

Relations took a turn for the worse on Monday after British forces forcibly rescued two undercover soldiers who had been detained by Iraqi police.

The British army will continue to
patrol Basra despite protests

"We are aware of reports of a boycott, but we are waiting until we can establish that is the case and come up with a plan," British army spokesman Major Steve Melbourne said.

British forces rescued the two soldiers after raiding a police station where they were initially detained, and then a nearby house where they were reportedly moved.

According to Iraqi MP Ali Dabagh, the militiamen from the outlawed Madhi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr wanted the soldiers as hostages to exchange for two of their leaders arrested on Sunday by British forces.

Investigation

Monday's showdown between Iraqi police and British soldiers also sparked protests when several hundred demonstrators attacked British forces besieging the police station in Basra.

Three British soldiers were slightly injured when demonstrators petrol-bombed their armoured vehicle while several Iraqis were also injured in the riot, according to British and Iraqi authorities.

"We are conducting normal patrols. Everything is back to normal as can be," Melbourne said.

Iraqi and British authorities will jointly investigate Monday's incidents, he added.