Vol. 4 Num 80 Fri. August 15, 2003  
Front Page

1 British soldier killed, 2 hurt in Basra

One British soldier was killed and two others were injured yesterday in an explosive attack in southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

The soldiers were caught in the blast of an "improvised explosive device" hidden next to a lamppost.

It detonated as the soldiers - heading to hospital in Shaibah for a routine matter -- passed it by in an army ambulance clearly marked with a red cross, said a spokesman.

"We think it was detonated by remote control," coalition spokesman Lieutenant Colonel PJ Lewis told BBC News.

The conditions of the two injured men, who were hit by shrapnel, are not thought to be life-threatening.

Spokesman Major Charlie Mayo said the dead man's family were being informed.

Incidents such as this, carried out by a small minority of those who do not want peace, will not deter us

He said: "This was a direct attack on a clearly marked ambulance, without any justification whatsoever.

"We will work closely with the police and local community to identify and track down those responsible."

He added that such attacks, "carried out by a small minority of those who do not want peace", would not stop the army trying to rebuild Basra or deliver humanitarian aid.

In an unrelated incident, the MoD confirmed a British soldier had been found dead in bed on Wednesday night.

An investigation into the death of Private Jason Smith, 32, part of the 52nd Lowland Regiment Territorial Army Battalion and serving with the 1st Battalion King's Own Scottish Borders, is under way.

The MoD said there was no suggestion he had been attacked nor that his death was suspicious, and said it may have been related to a medical issue.

Basra has, on the whole, remained relatively calm since the war, compared to US-controlled areas in and around Baghdad.

Before Thursday, there had been only one incident since the war in which British soldiers were killed.

That was on 24 June, when six military policemen were trapped and killed in Al-Majar Al-Kabir during demonstrations against what were seen as heavy-handed weapons searches.

But tensions have recently been rising in the city, amid ongoing fuel and power shortages and temperatures reaching more than 50C.

At the weekend several British soldiers were injured when up to 2,000 people took to the streets, burning tyres and throwing stones at troops.

However, defence analyst Paul Beaver told BBC News this latest incident had been very different in nature.

"This looks like a step up in operations by a group you can only call terrorists," he said.

"This is very much a pre-meditated act of terrorism.

The vehicle was clearly marked as humanitarian, said angry officials.

"There's no doubt at all what we're actually seeing here is someone making capital out of the fact there is now a greater awareness of discontent in the Basra area."

He feared it could signal a change in the way groups opposed to the ruling US-led coalition operated in the south of the country.

The BBC's Mike Donkin, in Baghdad, agreed, saying: "Attacks on US convoys by bombs and grenades have regularly killed American soldiers in the three months since the war was supposed to have ended.

"There will be real concern now that the tide has turned for the worse in the south.

"The Basra area will now be considered a dangerous potential flashpoint."