British soldiers hurt in Basra bombing and attack by mob

It was another bloody day for British forces in Basra yesterday, with three soldiers injured when their armoured Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb.

In what has become an all-too-familiar scene, a jeering crowd surrounded the vehicle, throwing grenades and petrol bombs, according to reports. The troops managed to escape before the Land Rover caught fire, but one Iraqi brandished a soldier's helmet seized in the fray.

The military said the British soldiers' injuries were light. But the bombing, swiftly followed by a mortar attack on the Basra airport base, emphasises that May has been a particularly tough time in southern Iraq.

British forces have endured 41 separate attacks and the deaths of seven colleagues in just over a fortnight. Last Sunday three female soldiers were injured when the small British camp in Maysan was pounded by 42 mortars and rockets in the most violent and concerted attack yet.

For many members of 20th Armoured Brigade, who took over just weeks ago, it has been a violent welcome. Those coming to the end of their tour admit it has been a "rollercoaster" of emotions.

Last week 600 servicemen and women, many in tears, watched as the coffins of the five service personnel killed in the attack on a helicopter on 6 May were lifted into a Hercules aircraft to fly home. This week "The Last Post" will be heard once again as the ceremony is repeated for the two 2nd Battalion, Royal Anglian soldiers killed by a bomb a week later.

"It has not hit some of the lads yet. They just haven't got time to think about it," said one of the Anglians yesterday.

The downing of the Lynx helicopter was the third most lethal attack on British forces since the official end of the war, and the mood in camp plummeted. That morning, Squadron Leader Nigel Moseley, 49, had seen off his old friend, Wing Commander John Coxen: "I think I said we might have a beer that night." Ten days later he was one of his coffin bearers.

Yesterday Britain's top military officer in Iraq, General Robert Fry, emphasised that the task could last some time. "If security has to be provided here for an ex-tended period of time, then that is what needs to happen," he told the BBC.

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