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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 05:18 GMT 06:18 UK
Basra soldiers tell of fire drama
Sgt George Long
Sergeant Long's back, arms and face were on fire

UK soldiers have described the moment when they were forced to flee their burning armoured vehicle during unrest in Basra, southern Iraq, on Monday.

Sgt George Long, of the Staffordshire Regiment, said part of his face was on fire when he fled the Warrior vehicle.

Pte Ryon Burton said: "I couldn't breathe - I just needed to get out."

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and Defence Secretary John Reid have denied the unrest has strained relations between the two countries.

The violence came as the Army launched a rescue operation to free two British soldiers who had been arrested in the southern Iraqi city.

Public disorder

See the dramatic picture of Sergeant Long's escape

Sgt Long, 29, told the BBC: "My back was on fire, down the back of my arms and part of my face. It was basic panic, I needed to get out of (the vehicle's) turret and get the flames put out."

He said after checking that his colleague was being dealt with, he got back into the vehicle to deal with the public disorder.

Pte Burton, 20, described to Channel 4 News the moment his vehicle came under attack from the mob.

He said: "The first thing I heard was the gunner saying his sights had been smashed. The second thing was a petrol bomb, coming over my hatch and the platoon sergeant shouting the petrol bomb had gone in the turret.

"It had seeped down in the back with the troops in the back, and down into the driver tunnel, located between the turret and the driving hatch."

He said he had to kick open the hatch before jumping through the flames to escape.

"As soon as I jumped off there were a good five or six people around me, telling me where to go."

'Desperate need'

Tank on fire on Monday

Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister met John Reid in London to discuss the tensions surrounding the Army's rescue operation, during which a jail was partially destroyed.

The Army said the two soldiers were taken by militants after the police ignored an order from the interior ministry to release them, but Interior Minister Baqir Solagh Jabr has denied this.

Anti-British demonstrations continued in the city on Wednesday, according to BBC correspondents.

But Mr Jaafari moved to quell disagreements by saying the incident was still being investigated.

The Iraqi prime minister said there was still a "desperate need" for coalition troops while the Iraqis built their own security forces.

But he added he was "optimistic" that Iraqi forces were making progress and shortening the amount of time foreign soldiers would be needed.


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