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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Two British soldiers die in Iraq
UK soldiers in Basra
A total of 168 UK service personnel have now died in Iraq
Two British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence said.

The soldiers died when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated next to their patrol west of Basra, southern Iraq, just after midnight on Thursday.

The next of kin of the two dead soldiers, who were from 1st Battalion the Irish Guards, have been informed.

A serviceman killed separately in Iraq on Tuesday has been named as Leading Aircraftman Martin Beard, of No 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment.

The deaths come amid concerns over the security situation in the south of the country as responsibility is increasingly transferred from British to Iraqi troops.

British forces have suffered 41 fatalities in Iraq so far in 2007, including four this week, compared to 29 in the whole of 2006.

The latest deaths bring the total number of UK personnel killed while in Iraq to 168.

Another two soldiers were seriously injured in the attack, which happened north of the Rumaylah oil fields.

'Exceptionally gifted'

LAC Beard, 20, was taking part in a routine foot patrol in the Al Waki district north of the British base at Basra air station.

He sustained a gunshot wound when the patrol came under attack as it moved through Al Waki market, and was evacuated by helicopter to the field hospital.

LAC Beard, of Rainworth, Nottinghamshire, leaves a family and a fiancee.

Leading Aircraftman Martin Beard (Pic: MoD)
LAC Martin Beard was described as a credit to his regiment

His commanding officer, Sqn Ldr Jason Sutton, said: "Strong, fit and an exceptionally gifted infantryman, he had such a bright future and had already set his sights on selection for special forces.

"I have no doubt whatsoever he would have succeeded in that as he did in all else.

"He was due to marry upon his return from Iraq and we all feel so deeply for his fiancee, Nic."

Defence Secretary Des Browne expressed his condolences to LAC Beard's family, friends and colleagues.

Mr Browne said: "Leading Aircraftman Beard was a very popular and highly promising young man who was a credit to the Royal Air Force Regiment."

'False impression'

British troop numbers in Basra have been reduced from 44,000 to 5,500, with plans to concentrate forces at their large airport base.

BBC News diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams said the casualty figures suggest that as the British withdraw from Basra they are facing increased hostility.

The Americans are increasingly sceptical both of what they see going on under British control in Basra, and the prospect of what they might have to deal with in the wake of a British pull-out, our correspondent added.

British military spokesman in Basra, Maj Mike Shearer, said it was almost expected that rogue militia would "raise their game" as the British moved towards handing over security to the Iraqis.

"They want to make this false impression actually that we are moving, as we're going to do quite shortly out of Basra Palace, because we've been pushed," he said.

"But the reality is that this was always going to be our plan."

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