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British soldiers in the southern Iraqi province of Basra also have become concerned about children playing with toy guns, although no ban has been imposed.

The British military issued a public-safety announcement on Friday asking parents not to allow their children to play with toy guns on the streets “in case security forces mistake them for real weapons and open fire.”

Maj. Bill Young, a British military spokesman, said the issue was coming up for the first time since the war started nearly six years ago - perhaps because of a possible influx of toy guns or because better security is encouraging people to spend more time outdoors.

“Maybe last year children wouldn’t have been out on the ground and their parents wouldn’t have let them play with the toy guns,” he said. “But there is still a risk with a significant number of British and Iraqi troops on the ground with weapons.”

Military officials said it was up to Iraqi authorities to impose such bans as part of local security measures. Iraq has no law forbidding ownership of real guns, and every household is permitted to have one firearm for self-defense.

But nobody likes to see a child cry - and even battle-weary soldiers have a soft spot.

Lt. Mays stopped short during Wednesday’s market tour after getting a call on his radio about the latest discovery, then doubled back to the soldiers hovering around the toddler cradling the toy gun.

Iraqi company commander 1st Lt. Mouwaffak Mohammed al-Janabi talked his American counterpart into letting the boy keep the toy, saying his father had been killed by an insurgent.

“OK, but that’s the last time. We’ve got to support General Ali’s orders,” Lt. Mays said.