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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Hoping to be home by Christmas
by Ben Brown
BBC correspondent in Iraq

Black Watch soldiers in Basra before their move north
Some troops doubt they will return home by Christmas
Camp Dogwood is the less than exotic name for the Black Watch battlegroup's new home, south west of Baghdad.

It is a sprawling old Iraqi factory complex, with a 26 mile perimeter.

At one stage it was a headquarters for Saddam's Republican Guard, then American logistics troops took it over, and now it is the turn of the British to commandeer this desolate compound.

For the Black Watch, just reaching Dogwood has been a minor victory in itself.

The convoy of troops, Warrior armoured fighting vehicles and supplies that set off from Southern Iraq on Wednesday, only arrived on Friday - a 24-hour delay caused by a spate of roadside bombs along the way: one went off, and three more were discovered, but there were no casualties.

'New challenge'

However the regiment are mourning the death of one of their own: a soldier killed in a vehicle accident as the convoy trundled north.

But many of the Black Watch's troops were spared the long and hazardous journey to Camp Dogwood.

Instead they were flown to Baghdad and then helicoptered into their new base.

As they boarded their planes, some sounded determined, relishing what they told me was "a new challenge in a new part of Iraq."

The storm of political controversy this deployment has provoked back home in Britain does not seem to have unduly worried the average Black Watch 'jock'.

"We're professional soldiers," said one. "We just want to get on with the job, get it over with and get home."

Others I met though seemed understandably daunted by the dangers ahead. "I'm a bit nervous," said Private Manny Lynch, who is 19. "It's meant to be quite dangerous." Are you frightened, I asked him. "So-so," he said.

But then again who would not be?

After all, there has been much lurid coverage in the media about how the troops were heading to the so-called 'Triangle of Death', a haven for Sunni militants, Saddam loyalists and Islamic extremists.

'Short deployment'

Armchair generals back in London have pointed confidently at the lawless Sunni towns south of Baghdad, and said these were the places the Black Watch would have to try and pacify where the Americans of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have failed.

But actually, it now turns out the Black Watch battlegroup will be operating elsewhere, to the west of the Euphrates, a largely barren swathe of desert, where people live in hamlets and villages rather than major towns.

It may well still prove distinctly dangerous but probably somewhat less so than the much-vaunted 'Triangle'.

Now that they have arrived, one of the biggest questions for the soldiers is when will they leave. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has personally promised that the Black Watch will be home by Christmas.

Military commanders have insisted to us here in Basra that this is a short, 30 day deployment - no more, no less.

Still, the soldiers have their doubts.

Do you believe the prime minister when he says you'll be home for the festive season, I asked Private Ian Gordon. "Not really," he said. "Tony Blair lies quite a lot. I'm not sure who to believe."


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