Great piece - makes these boys look like something out of Three Kings! Copyright 2004 Associated Newspapers Ltd. MAIL ON SUNDAY October 3, 2004 LENGTH: 957 words BODY: AMBUSH! FROM BARBARA JONES WITH 1 CHESHIRE BATTLE GROUP IN BASRA THE boys from 1 Cheshire Battle Group were putting a brave face on it. They were going out on patrol in southern Iraq along a route they hoped they d never have to see again and I was allowed to go with them. It was the same route taken last Tuesday by Corporal Marc Taylor and Gunner David Lawrence who were killed in a hail of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades after their convoy was ambushed by the black-clad militia of the Mahdi Army. We headed out in the same type of sand-coloured and camouflaged armoured Land Rover they had used known as a Snatch and,, within minutes, we came under the same sort of terrifying attack. As a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) exploded to our left, our vehicle rocked violently. The two soldiers alongside us straightened up, weapons already smoking as they fired back at our ambushers. Our lives were in the hands of an 18-year-old babyfaced squaddie known as Slingshot and his 23-year-old mate, Bazza. A second RPG exploded about 70ft away from us. I crouched inside the vehicle, unable to see exactly what was happening outside and imagining in graphic colour the result if the next round hit us. Squashed into the rear left corner of the vehicle, with only a tiny square of window to peer through, I could see nothing but the confusion of local Iraqi people screaming, dropping their shopping and scat-tering for shelter. Our assailants were more Mahdi Army militiamen who had tracked our patrol through the streets and positioned themselves on a rooftop to our left. Our vehicle, lying fourth in the convoy, got the lot. And, as the fire rained down from the rooftop, gunmen on the pavement opened up with Kalashnikovs. Private Robert Slinger Slingshot had been on the trigger from the first second of the ambush, as had Private Sam Barry Bazza. Contact! RPGs! Over to the left! they yelled.. Slingshot opened up with his rifle, Bazza hammered his light machine gun. Bullets rained down on us. The soldiers were straddling the Land Rover s spare tyre to reach out of the top of the vehicle. Slingshot threw an empty magazine case down on to us. I wondered if it meant he d run out of bullets and was now a sitting target. I was waiting for Slingshot and Bazza to be shot from above and slump bloodstained back into the vehicle on top of me because I knew that s exactly what had happened to their fellow soldiers two days earlier. We sat scared stiff as all hell broke out around us. I leaned forward into a brace position and imagined us being thrown clear of the vehicle at some point if we were lucky and then what?? Lying in the road at the mercy of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr s cutthroats? At the same moment my photographer Tania and I both thought to scramble for the helmets we d discarded earlier and which were now rolling around somewhere. Our flak jackets, which had seemed impossibly cumbersome in the heat, now didn t seem enough to protect us. As the exchange of fire continued, Corporal Phil Thompson pushed his head through the canvas cover and shouted: Are you all right, girls? He got a weak Yes out of us and actually grinned. I said: You set this up to impress us, you bastards! In the front, the Cheshires commanding officer Major Ian Strong had radioed his base camp, reporting a contact in the area. He gave our exact position and put men on standby in case we needed help. Slingshot and Bazza killed three men, dropping them one after the other, as they fired on us from the rooftop. Then Slingshot, still firing, began singing. That s the way, uhuh uhuh, I like it, uhuh, uhuh, he boomed at the top of his voice, desert boots stomping rhythmically on the spare tyre. Tania and I exchanged silent, incredulous glances. Then, almost as fast as it had begun, the shooting stopped and we were driving away. With the vehicles in front and behind checked and all safe, we were simply relieved we d got out of it alive. Slingshot apologised for the rain of bullets and the magazine case, saying he hoped they hadn t hit us. Between them, he and Bazza had fired 188 rounds from the Minimi light machine gun and the SA80. This is the one they all say doesn t work, said Slingshot with a smirk,, patting the rifle. We drove steadily back to the nearest British base to count and record the rounds fired. . . Working through informants, the Army has estimated there are 600-800 al-Sadra supporters in Basra. Forced out of the holy city of Najaf after negotiations and coming under nightly bombardment by the US military at their home base in the slums of Baghdad, the fight-ers appear to have come south to take on the British. Their ambush strategy is a worrying trend in Basra where British troops have laid the painstaking groundwork for peace over the past 18 months, building homes, laying miles of new water pipes and refurbishing schools. While Baghdad itself is reeling from daily explosions, kidnappings and attacks on American troops, Basra is simmering uneasily. The waves and smiles that greet British patrols are increasingly followed by random attacks. As we drove back to base, Slingshot became reflective. My parents worry sick about this sort of thing, he said,, and my girlfriend does. But my mum s very proud. Next day Bazza was to be made up to Lance-Corporal and that made him proud. Slingshot added: Bazza s getting married at the end of the year before we all get sent to Northern Ireland. As Corporal Thompson, who was due home on leave this weekend, took his place on top cover in the Land Rover, he looked down at us. I don t really know what we re doing here, he said.. Do you?