Sergeant is first British woman to die in Iraq

A Military Police sergeant from Liverpool has become Britain's first female soldier to die in Iraq, the Army said yesterday.

An investigation has been launched after Staff Sergeant Denise Rose, 34, was found dead from a gunshot wound at a military base in the southern city of Basra on Sunday.

Sgt Rose, who worked for the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police, is the first female member of the military to die in the country since the campaign to remove Saddam Hussein began last year. Her death was not believed to have been the result of hostile action, the Ministry of Defence said.

The death brings the number of British service personnel who have died in Iraq since the conflict began last March to 70.

Sgt Rose joined the Royal Military Police in 1989 and trained as an SIB investigator in 1995, conducting investigations into serious incidents within the military in the UK and Cyprus.

There were reports yesterday that senior officers have not ruled out the possibility that she may have committed suicide at the camp.

The MoD said: "She was deployed as a volunteer to Iraq on September 27, operating as part of a small team of specialist investigators to provide security for the people of Iraq and assist in the rebuilding of the country through the provision of a well-trained police force."

Colleagues paid tribute to Sgt Rose last night, describing her death as a "terrible shock". Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Silk, the commanding officer of her parent unit, the SIB (Germany), which is based at Rheindahlen, said: "This is a terrible shock for all her many comrades in the unit. She was doing so well in the Army and had a bright future in front of her. Denise had a multitude of friends, being universally popular, intelligent and ever cheerful. Her death is a tragic loss."

Since the conflict in Iraq began in March 2003, a total of 69 British men have died. Of these, 31 died in action ­ including seven in so-called friendly fire incidents ­ 31 in accidents, two in explosives accidents and five from natural causes or illness.

The body of Sgt Rose was found in the Shatt-al-Arab hotel in the Basra base, the administrative centre for 8,500 British troops, early on Sunday. The discovery followed a night of heavy attacks on troops in the southern city.

Her death coincided with Black Watch soldiers coming under fresh attack yesterday at their new base south of Baghdad. Seven rockets were launched into the Camp Dogwood complex in the first daylight attacks since the arrival of the 850-strong Black Watch battlegroup on Friday.

The MoD said that there were no injuries in the attack and no serious damage to the base. The incidents bring the total number of rockets and mortars fired at British troops at the base over the past five days to 14.

The Black Watch are reportedly due to begin active patrolling within the next two days, blocking off exit routes from Fallujah and releasing US forces for the anticipated all-out assault on the city.

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