In this cat-and-mouse war, the sniper is king

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The Independent Online

It was the tank crew who spotted them first, four men in civilian clothing jumping out of the back of a pick-up truck carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in the heart of Zubayr.

It was the tank crew who spotted them first, four men in civilian clothing jumping out of the back of a pick-up truck carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in the heart of Zubayr.

Corporal Mark Harvey was the first of the snipers to react, dropping to his knee and fixing the man carrying the RPG in his sights, one shot, a moving target, the militia man dropping like a stone, dead before he hit the ground. A clean shot to the head.

The three others with him stopped in their tracks, grabbed the body of their fallen comrade and pulled him into the bushes by the roadside, then took off towards the nearby houses.

But in the Challenger tank, their every move was being watched. As they ran into what they thought was the safety of the rabbit warren of ramshackle buildings, the sniper teams' radios were guiding them in.

Moments earlier they had been sitting in the back of a Warrior armoured vehicle waiting to set out for what looked likely to be another day or more of waiting and watching, covering a small arc of land near the bridge, never relaxing as they waited for a target to appear.

Now they were running towards the houses, all thoughts of cover forgotten, racing headlong towards the doorway into which their quarry had vanished. In the lead was Corporal "Pedro" Laing, SA-80 rifle in hand. He reached the door and never paused, raising his boot and kicking hard against the woodwork, sending it flying open. An old man looked up startled, found himself grabbed roughly and thrown out of the doorway into the street, past Cpl Harvey and Lance Corporal Scott "Robbo" Robertson. Inside the building, a militaman, pulled the pin from his grenade and hurled it at Pedro's head. The corporal ducked, the grenade flying over his head, exploding in the street, shrapnel whizzing past his friends outside, fragments hitting Robbo at the top of his legs.

As Pedro got to his feet, he looked up to see that the man in front of him had grabbed his AK-47. Jumping up, he fired one shot at the man now standing in the doorway, killing him instantly.

Then Robbo and Pedro were in through the doorway, throwing grenades on the run, one, two, three, four, exploding in front of them, the tank outside pouring chain gun fire into the roof of the building. As the grenades went off, the pair opened up with their rifles, finishing off the militia men, killing everyone in their way.

They could have left it to the tank to smash the place to pieces but there were other houses next door.

For the snipers, it was a rare moment of hand-to-hand fighting, the closest they had been to an enemy they normally only saw through the telescopic sights bound in dusty rags fixed atop their rifles, the long muzzles masked by more scraps of cloth, the better to prevent the glint of metal which would give their position away.

Eight days of lying in the dirt, crouched on rooftops, waiting to pick off the militia men who slipped from building to building, emerging out of the dark to fire their RPGs then disappear back into the mass of houses that make up this troublesome town.

The snipers had feared they would play little part in the battles to be fought in an open desert war, but as the Iraqi soldiers threw away their uniforms and ran back into the towns and the militia men became the true enemy, they came into their own.

In this cat-and-mouse war, the sniper was king.

Eight days and 17 kills.

This is a pooled despatch from Gethin Chamberlain of 'The Scotsman'.

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