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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
British soldiers killed in Iraq
The armoured Land Rover was hit by a rocket propelled grenade
The vehicle was part of a convoy ambushed at 0615 BST
Two British soldiers have been killed in an ambush near Basra in southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defence has said.

Soldiers came under fire as they tried to rescue others from an armoured Land Rover that had been hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

The vehicle was part of a convoy ambushed at 0615 BST (0915 local time).

Two soldiers later died at the British military hospital in Shaibah. At least two Iraqi bystanders were also injured in the ambush, officials said.

While the soldiers were trying to extract the casualties from that Land Rover they came under further small arms fire
Ministry of Defence

The convoy of two armoured Land Rovers and a truck had been travelling south-west of Basra.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Two British soldiers died following the ambush of a military convoy south-west of Basra this morning.

"There was an armoured Land Rover which was badly damaged and while the soldiers were trying to extract the casualties from that Land Rover they came under further small arms fire."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told BBC News: "It is too soon to say who is responsible - but it does look like the actions of extreme Shia militia."

British Army spokesman in Basra, Major Charlie Mayo, told BBC News: "At some stage during the day, every single soldier here will pause for a minute or two just to think about what has happened and to think about the soldiers and their families.

"But we pick ourselves up, we have got a job to do, and we get on with it."

The deaths bring the tally of British soldiers killed in combat in Iraq to 24.

A further 44 service personnel in the country have died as a result of other incidents including friendly fire and road traffic accidents.

The ambush came just hours before Prime Minister Tony Blair was due to address the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

And Mr Blair began his speech by expressing his condolences to the families of the two soldiers.

But Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch said: "As the prime minister continues to try and explain the reasons for the war in Iraq, now even to his own party, British troops continue to pay the price with their lives.

"If Blair cannot say sorry to his party or the country, perhaps he should say sorry to the relatives of those who have died."

A British military spokesman in Basra said troops would continue to patrol wearing berets not helmets.

Explosive devices

The security situation had improved significantly in the past month, he added.

But two or three incidents involving improvised explosive devices were still being reported every week.

Maj Mayo told BBC News the British Army in Basra was now "concentrating on supporting the Iraqi security services".

Troops were training the Iraqi National Guard to "take on the responsibility of all security", he added.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the US has struck at the rebel-held city of Falluja overnight, bombing what it called a "terrorist site" linked to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

He is blamed for a string of kidnappings - including that of British hostage Ken Bigley - and suicide bombings.

Sadr raids

Local doctors said at least two people were killed in the raid, but the US said "only Zarqawi operatives", not civilians, were at the site.

Baghdad's Sadr City suburb was also hit overnight, and residents said dozens of tanks roamed the streets on Tuesday.

Last month, the British Army fired 100,000 rounds of ammunition in southern Iraq.

The British base in al-Ammara sustained more than 400 direct mortar hits.

The British battalion there counted some 853 separate attacks of different kinds: mortars, roadside bombs, rockets and machine-gun fire.

The BBC's Nick Witchell
"For British forces around Basra, hostile action has been at a very high level"


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