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Last Updated: Friday, 5 November, 2004, 19:29 GMT
Blair tribute to Black Watch dead
Pictured left to right Sgt Stuart Gray, Pte Paul Lowe and Pte Scott McArdle
Pictured left to right Sgt Stuart Gray, Pte Paul Lowe and Pte Scott McArdle
Tony Blair has paid tribute to the heroism of the Black Watch in Iraq, expressing his deep sympathy to the families of the three dead soldiers.

Sgt Stuart Gray, 31, Pte Paul Lowe, 19, and Pte Scott McArdle, 22, were killed in a suicide bomb attack, east of the River Euphrates, near Falluja.

The bomber drove his car at them on Thursday, detonating a device.

The mother of Sgt Gray said he was a loving husband, father, son and brother and a proud Black Watch member.

An unnamed Iraqi interpreter was also killed.

Mr 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 deep sympathy and condolences to the families of those soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq yesterday," he said.

BLACK WATCH VICTIMS
Pte Scott McArdle
Sgt Stuart Gray, 31, married, mortar platoon
Pte Paul Lowe, 19, single, 'pipes and drums'
Pte Scott McArdle, 22, single, elite reconnaissance platoon
"I would also 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."

Mary Gray hailed her son as "an experienced and professional soldier".

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

After the suicide bomb attack, the troops came under "sustained mortar fire".

Eight personnel who were wounded were removed by helicopter, but the three soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed instantly, commander of the regiment Lt Col James Cowan said.


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.

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

Black Watch on the eastern side of the Euphrates

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.

He also paid tribute to the unnamed Iraqi interpreter, killed on the day he was due to get married.

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.

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

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said the deployment was "a political one" aimed at helping President George Bush in the US election.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon criticised Mr Salmond for taking "political advantage of the death of three brave men".

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

The battle group comprises 500 men and 50 Warrior armoured fighting vehicles.

ATTACK ON THE BLACK WATCH
1 Warrior armoured fighting vehicle damaged by roadside bomb.
2 Second Warrior arrives to assist and comes under attack from rocket-propelled grenade. No-one hurt.
3 Black Watch troops return to recover vehicles and set up a cordon.
4 A car approaches one of the mobile checkpoints and occupant detonates bomb. Three soldiers and a civilian interpreter are killed.
5 Remaining troops come under mortar fire. Eight are wounded, but MoD says none seriously. All are rescued by helicopter.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Tony Blair's message of condolence




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