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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
Uncertainty ends for Black Watch
British troops could be moved from southern Iraq
Most British soldiers are currently based in southern Iraq
Scottish regiment soldiers have finally been told that they will be redeployed to a more dangerous part of Iraq.

Families of the Black Watch are glad the uncertainty is over, but they say there are worrying times ahead.

John Nichol, a former member of the Perth-based regiment, said relatives would "worry until their loved-ones stepped off the plane".

Eddie Cowie, father of a Black Watch soldier, said he was "pleased troops would remain under UK control".

The decision to redeploy Black Watch soldiers to an area south-west of the Iraqi capital came following a request from the American military.

MPs were told it would free up US troops for an anticipated assault on the rebel stronghold of Falluja.

The area around Baghdad is more hostile than Basra in southern Iraq, where the Black Watch are currently based.

They have a hard job and they will do it very well, we are proud of them and we will back them 100%
John Nichol
Former Black Watch
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons on Thursday that despite moving into a US-controlled area, the UK forces would act under British military rules of engagement.

In total, the British deployment would involve 850 troops, including medics, signallers and engineers.

Mr Hoon stressed that the deployment would "last weeks rather than months".

But Mr Cowie said he did not expect his son to be home in time for Christmas.

He explained: "It takes a long time for troops to go into a fighting zone, and by the time they dig in and set up they will be there more than a month.

"He (Geoff Hoon) said the Black Watch would be home by Christmas - I would like to see it but I disagree that it is possible."

Defence cuts

During his address to MPs, Mr Hoon also announced that an armoured infantry group of the Scots Guards would travel to Iraq to fill in the role currently undertaken by the Black Watch.

The 1st Battalion Scots Guards are equipped, like the Black Watch, with Warrior armoured vehicles.

Mr Nichol said he believed the soldiers would do a good job and he believed morale among the troops would be high at this time.

British troops in Basra
British troops have secured local goodwill in southern Iraq

But Mr Nichol added: "Right now, The Jocks will be worried about the mission. They have to put their families and the fate of their regiment to the back of their minds, because they have got a job to do.

"They have a hard job and they will do it very well, we are proud of them and we will back them 100%.

"This mission will be different from the mission in Basra. That was the same as Northern Ireland, it was a case of winning hearts and minds - this mission will be harder, but they will do it well."

Opposition parties expressed their displeasure at the Black Watch move.

'Unforgivable crime'

The Scottish Socialist Party said the prime minister was committing an "unforgivable crime" in sending Scottish soldiers to back up US troops.

The party's leader Tommy Sheridan said: "Tony Blair is committing an unforgivable crime, sending brave young Scots to cover the back of George Bush as he attempts to look tough just in time for the US elections in two weeks time.

"Is this the blood price Tony Blair is willing to pay, young Scottish soldiers sacrificed in a disastrous war justified on deceit and lies?"

The Scottish National Party questioned how long the regiment's mission would actually last.

Pete Wishart MP said: "Yesterday, the prime minister said the Black Watch would be home by Christmas yet nowhere in the statement is that confirmed.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies Campbell feels it is a "deployment too far"

"Will they be home for Christmas or does he see some situation or set of circumstances where that pledge will not be honoured?"

The Liberal Democrats also questioned the decision.

Sir Menzies Campbell MP said: "The defence secretary described this as a deployment limited by scope, time and space.

"These are words that could come back to haunt the government.

"Many of us feel that this is a deployment too far for the Black Watch."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the US wants British troops redeployed



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