Hoon asleep on job

Unbelievable. Yet no sign of him being mag to grid for this or his many other shortcomings...

Copyright 2004 MGN Ltd.
Sunday Mirror

July 25, 2004, Sunday

SECTION: 3 Star Edition; FEATURES; Pg. 16,17

LENGTH: 1413 words



VIGILANT: Tommy Glover, 31, a Territorial Army Private with a unit attached to the Cheshires; TARGET: Sam Cox shot back when she came under rifle fire from an insurgent; HANDOVER: Cheshires operate in partnership with Iraqi police they trained; DANGER: A member of the battalion makes his way through Basra's streets; BOAT PATROL: Cheshires in action

THE first mortar round explodes 20 metres away, sending shrapnel flying against a brick wall.

Sniper Chris Bate and a colleague dive for cover. But they are too late. A second mortar detonates just a few metres away and both are hit.

Chris, a Colour Sergeant, is wounded in the leg. His comrade, a young female medic, takes the full force of the blast - shrapnel slicing through both her arms and legs.

By the time Chris and another medic, Private Sarah Whitely, pull her to safety another four mortars soar over and pound the inside the base - dubbed "Death Camp" because of the number of times it has come under attack.

This is the harsh reality of life for British troops in Basra.

On the same day back in Westminster, a smiling Tony Blair announces triumphantly to the Commons: "Let us rejoice Iraq has been liberated."

But as he continued, refusing to say sorry for misleading the country over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, 8,000 British soldiers were fighting on in his name.

Their lives revolve around surviving in 140oF. Heat so searing, it sucks the moisture from your eyeballs and mouth within seconds of going out in sun.

The day before we arrive to join the 1st Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment, it came under fire from a teenage boy.

The 14-year-old militant - who according to army intelligence had been inspired by the fanatical cleric al Sadr - began firing randomly into a crowd. Four Iraqis were killed before the teenager escaped to a nearby rooftop.

He was arrested by the elite Iraqi Tactical Support Unit, which stormed the building after the British had secured the area.

There is not a day that goes by in Basra when British forces do not come under attack, either from mortars, roadside bombs or direct gunfire.

The incidents go largely unreported and forgotten by Blair's speech writers.

On one of the few occasions Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon visited the troops in Southern Iraq he fell asleep while a Brigadier briefed him about the regular attacks.

Before he dozes off again perhaps he should talk to Sgt Bate, who in the last five weeks has twice come close to losing his life. Yesterday, as he recalled the horrifying mortar attack, Sgt Bate said: "If we hadn't dived for cover when the first one exploded we would not alive now.

"Every day here there is some kind of contact with the Iraqi insurgents. This is the last remaining camp in the heart of Basra."

A month earlier Chris, who also operates as a platoon sniper for the Cheshires, again came close to being killed. He said: "I was on the roof, looking through a night sight, just basically observing. I was looking at one area and then moved to another but something made me go back to the original area.

"The next thing I saw was an Iraqi crouching down pointing an rocket-propelled grenade straight at me. I warned another soldier of the danger and then shot the Iraqi in the chest.

"I saw him shortly afterwards in the hospital. He was on a drip. I knew it was him because the nurse told me when he had been brought in. I didn't feel much to be honest. It was either him or me."

Perhaps Mr Blair should talk to Gunner Samantha Cox, 20, from the Royal Horse Artillery - one of the few women to have opened fire in Basra. While on guard duty she came under attack from an Iraqi who drove up to the camp and opened up with an AK.

"You make a split-second decision," she said. "Do you go for cover or return fire. I fired back twice. I know the first shot hit the car, I don't know about the second.

"I was shaking afterwards. All sorts of things were going through my head. Had I followed the rules of engagement? I knew I had, because the Iraqi fired right at me. I heard the bullet whistle over my head."

This is the terrifying reality facing Coalition forces in Southern Iraq. The troops must be saluted for their bravado and positivity - for they agree that they now have reason to be cautiously optimistic.

Slowly but surely their training of the Iraqi security forces appears to be paying off. Since the transfer of power, our servicemen have scaled down their presence in Basra. Now the soldiers will only patrol in the city with the permission of the Iraqis. Troops had expected the local forces to behave as they did during the bloody uprising on May 8 - fleeing the streets while the bullets and missiles flew.

But Captain Mark Ellis, 26, who leads a troop which has trained and equipped the police, says today it is a different story.

Captain Ellis, of the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery - whose base has been attacked so many times they call it Death Camp - said: "When we first arrived in Iraq there was a mortar attack on one of bases and they simply locked themselves in the stations. Now when things get hairy they're on the streets, setting up road blocks, hunting insurgents."

Yet many soldiers still fear a return to anarchy or a coup after they eventually leave Iraq.

As we join a joint patrol with the Cheshires - based at the Shatt Al Arab - the gulf between British troops and the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) is painfully apparent. The Iraqi officers limply hold their AK47s, almost looking embarrassed about their role as local law enforcers.

Corporal David Roberts from Liverpool, who leads our patrol through a busy market at dusk, tells us: "Since the transfer of power they have slackened off a bit. They aren't manning checkpoints as they should be. They need to stay alert."

The Iraqis we speak to on the street are not as critical - but neither are they keen for the British to leave. Ali Jabbar, 35, a student, says: "We like to see the British here. It means we are safe.

"But when they go I think we will cope. Our policemen are tougher on criminals. When the British catch them, they just let them go." Brigadier Kadhim, Basra's chief of police, is also confident they will prevent anarchy.

Speaking from the station, hit by car bomb in April, he said: "We have had a taste of freedom since Saddam has gone. We do not want to lose it again. Under Saddam, the police here were powerless. If Saddam wanted something he simply got the Army to carry it out. We had no say."

But being a friend of the British in Basra is a dangerous business.

Last Tuesday, the former deputy governor of Basra district, Hazem al Alainachi, a close ally of the British, was murdered on his way to work.

As he came to a checkpoint, which appeared to be manned by Iraqi police, his bodyguards halted the car and wound down the windows.

The police, actually terrorists in Iraqi uniforms, immediately turned their rifles on the prominent politician, riddling his car with bullets and killing both Hazem and his son. Colonel David Cullen, commanding officer of the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, said: "He knew he was treading a fine line.

"They knew he was friendly with the British. He said to me some weeks ago 'I fear for my life. Look after my family if something happens'. He was an important person in Basra and he had a vision for the city."

Back at the battalion's HQ in the Shatt Al Arab hotel, the Cheshires prepare for another patrol.

The soldiers are hunting two Iraqi mortar teams who have been lobbing explosives on to the camp regularly for the last three months.

The last rocket to hit went through three tents where troops were sleeping before hitting a container full of SA80 rifles and ammunition.

The fire made hundreds of bullets explode and went on long into the night.

The hotel is a stylish building, constructed in the 1930s when Basra was a favourite haunt of playboy Kuwaitis who wanted to drink and entertain their girlfriends away from the strict rules of their own country.

Today young infantrymen pull on their body armour and pick up their SA80s under the chandeliers where people once drank and danced.

Witnessing the dedication, courage and professionalism of the British soldier it is impossible not to be impressed. The troops, with their earthy humour and determination to get the job done, are far too shrewd to gloat about liberation.

Risking their lives amid mortars, bombs and bullets and getting to know the Iraqis each day they would never be so stupid to rejoice as if the job is done - and they know it's not.

"Rejoice?" one soldier says in surprise. "Rejoice? Yeah I will f***ing rejoice. When I'm home with a cold beer and my girlfriend and I'm out of this hole."


Kit Reviewer
Forces_Sweetheart said:
Unbelievable. Yet no sign of him being mag to grid for this or his many other shortcomings...


The last rocket to hit went through three tents where troops were sleeping before hitting a container full of SA80 rifles and ammunition.


Every cloud has a silver lining

..and The Mirror takes another small, painful step towards rehabilitation :D
And our heroes the Cheshires remain eloquent as ever... "Rejoice?" one soldier says in surprise. "Rejoice? Yeah I will f***ing rejoice. When I'm home with a cold beer and my girlfriend and I'm out of this hole." Classic.
Not a bad story at all, even if they did have to get the bit about "Death Camp" in twice. even if they did have to get the bit about "Death Camp" in twice.

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