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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 17:21 GMT
Morgan's St David's Day Iraq trip
First minister and Welsh guards
Rhodri Morgan chats with members of the Welsh Guards
First Minister Rhodri Morgan visited Iraq on a surprise St David's Day visit to meet Welsh troops.

Mr Morgan travelled to the Basra region, in the south-east of the country, to meet soldiers from a variety of regiments.

He watched a parade during the morning before having lunch with the 1,000-strong 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards.

It was Mr Morgan's first visit to Iraq since the end of the war was declared.

The battalion is based in the Maysan province, one of the poorest in Iraq. Vast areas have no schools, electricity or running water.

Rhodri Morgan talking to guardsmen
First minister and Guardsman Christopher Rodd from Penarth

The first minister met soldiers with the two Welsh regiments serving in Iraq - the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, as well as soldiers from The Royal Welch Fusiliers.

His visit came just a day after a suicide car bomb killed 114 people in Hilla, 100km (60m) south of Baghdad.

The car, reportedly driven by a suicide bomber, exploded near a queue of people applying for government jobs.

First minister presenting St David's Day leeks
During his visit, Mr Morgan presented leeks to celebrate 1 March

During his visit Mr Morgan went on to meet soldiers from the Prince of Wales Company in Basra city, as well as Welsh soldiers from a variety of units at Shaibah logistics base before a final leek presentation to airmen at the Basra air station.

Speaking at the end of his visit, Mr Morgan said: "Celebrating St David's Day with Welsh soldiers in Iraq has been a really emotional experience.

"It has been a major celebration with everyone wearing leeks - even little children on the streets are wearing leeks today. It made me feel very proud to be here on our patron saint's day.

"Our troops may be thousands of miles from home but their thoughts have been very much in Wales today as they have taken part in a big St David's Day parade followed by a special Welsh lunch of leek soup and roast lamb.

"Our soldiers are doing a fantastic job here in Southern Iraq in their peace-keeping role and the work they are doing in terms of community regeneration and reconstruction of local infrastructure.

"We all have every reason to feel very proud of them for the vital work they are doing here in southern Iraq."


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31 Jan 05 |  Wales



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