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Last Updated: Friday, 5 November, 2004, 13:55 GMT
Dead Black Watch soldiers named
Paul Lowe
Paul Lowe was one of three soldiers who were killed
The three Black Watch soldiers killed in a suicide bomb attack in central Iraq on Thursday have been named.

Sgt Stuart Gray, 31, Pte Paul Lowe, 19, and Pte Scott McArdle, 22, died while manning a vehicle checkpoint, east of the River Euphrates, near Falluja.

Commander of the regiment Lt Col James Cowan said the deaths of the men, all from Fife, were a painful blow.

But he said the Black Watch would not be deterred from carrying out their fight against terrorists.

The men died after a suicide bomber drove his vehicle at the soldiers, detonating a device, before the troops came under "sustained mortar fire".

The wounded were removed by helicopter but the three soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed instantly, Lt Col Cowan said.

Stuart was an experienced and professional soldier, a loving husband, father, son and brother, and a proud member of the Black Watch
Mary Gray

The sequence of events which led to the deaths began on Wednesday afternoon.

While carrying out patrols within the Black Watch's area of operation, a Warrior armoured fighting vehicle was damaged by a road side explosion, which the Ministry of Defence says was probably caused by a booby trap.

A further Warrior - sent to assist the vehicle - was then attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade.

No troops were injured at this stage.

Sgt Stuart Gray, 31, married, mortar platoon
Pte Paul Lowe, 19, single, 'pipes and drums'
Pte Scott McArdle, 22, single, elite reconnaissance platoon

On Thursday, members of the Black Watch returned to the scene of the attacks to retrieve the two immobilised vehicles.

It was at a road block set up as part of the recovery operation that the suicide bomber struck.

The 850-strong force has been attacked repeatedly since it arrived at Camp Dogwood, 20 miles (32km) from Baghdad, on Friday, after a request from the US.

'Painful blow'

Speaking at Camp Dogwood, Lt Col Cowan said the dead men would be missed as "brothers in arms".

"For a close knit family such as the Black Watch this is indeed a painful blow and all three of these soldiers were our friends," he said.

"But while we feel this blow most keenly we are the Black Watch and we will not be deterred from seeing our task through to a successful conclusion."

He also paid tribute to an unnamed Iraqi interpreter, who had postponed his wedding to travel north with the battle group from Basra, who was also killed in the attack on the day he was due to get married.

Mary Gray, the mother of Sgt Gray, hailed her son as "an experienced and professional soldier, a loving husband, father, son and brother, and a proud member of the Black Watch".

She said she was "deeply shocked" by the news of his death but that her sadness was tinged with pride.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking from Brussels where he stood alongside Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi ahead of an EU summit, hailed the bravery of the dead men but said securing peace in Iraq was "absolutely crucial".

"[I would like to] express my pride and gratitude to the Black Watch for the extraordinary and heroic job they are doing there, which is of crucial importance to making sure democratic elections can go ahead in Iraq," he said.

Hospital release

The bodies of the soldiers will be flown home next week, the MoD said.

Two of the eight other troops wounded in the attack remain in hospital but were due to be released on Friday.

Black Watch on the eastern side of the Euphrates

Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram said the deaths - the first British losses to suicide attacks - could have happened anywhere in Iraq.

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said the deployment was "a political one" aimed at helping President George Bush in the US election and that Black Watch had been given an "impossible job".

His comments were echoed by Craig Lowe, 18, whose brother Paul died in the attacks.

The Black Watch had been sent to the "dangerous part of Iraq" to help Mr Bush, he told reporters on Friday morning.

But Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told BBC News it was "a straightforward military" deployment and criticised Mr Salmond for taking "political advantage of the death of three brave men".

Expanded operations

Defence analyst Colonel Mike Dewar dismissed the "absurd fuss" made by the media and politicians over "a purely operational matter" and called for "perspective" on the deaths.

Why should our men die because of poor conflict management skills among the Americans?
Peter B Lloyd, London, England

"Of course a death is always a tragedy but if the... then minister of defence was interviewed for every death in the Second World War it would become laughable," he told BBC News.

The latest attack brings to 73 the number of UK military personnel killed in Iraq, although only 31 have actually been as a result of enemy attacks.

The east side of the river had been controlled by US marines until this week, when the Black Watch began active patrols from their base at Camp Dogwood on the west bank of the river.

The Black Watch expanded its operations in an attempt to stop rebels reaching Falluja.

The Black Watch battle group comprises three companies of armoured infantry from the 1st Battalion The Black Watch, with some 500 men and 50 Warrior armoured fighting vehicles.

The regiment traditionally recruits from Perthshire, Angus and Fife, is based in Warminster, Wiltshire.


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