UK troops head for Iraq's 'triangle of death'

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The Independent Online

British troops moved towards Iraq's "triangle of death" today to take over from US marines preparing for an assault on Fallujah.

British troops moved towards Iraq's "triangle of death" today to take over from US marines preparing for an assault on Fallujah.

Soldiers from the Black Watch began pulling out of their base in the southern city of Basra to a far more dangerous area near Baghdad.

Around 50 vehicles were on the move. Low-loaders believed to be carrying Warrior infantry combat vehicles and Scimitar reconnaissance vehicles were thought to be heading for a base in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, accompanied by US marines.

The Government gave the go-ahead last week for an 850-strong battle group led by the Black Watch to be deployed north of their Basra base. They will be assisting US forces to help pave the way for Iraqi elections in January.

The British soldiers are filling in for their US allies, who are thought to be preparing for an assault on the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. Critics claim it is a political move to boost President George Bush ahead of the US presidential election.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed today's move, but declined to say how many soldiers were on the road. It is not thought the entire battle group will move out today on the journey, which is expected to take between 24 and 30 hours.

A convoy of vehicles, decked out with Union flags, was seen ready to move out.

Black Watch commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel James Cowan said the troops left Basra to head for a base in Hillah. They were accompanied by 40 US Marines.

He said: "British forces have just started moving this morning into the north of Hillah. They will deploy in that area and will receive their jobs in maintaining security there."

Other reports suggested they were going to the Shia town of Nasiriyah.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted the deployment would be "a limited operation for a limited period".

He has stressed they will be home by Christmas, although the Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker has said they may need to be replaced by other troops from the multi-national force.

The deployment starts as a new opinion poll shows overwhelming opposition to the move.

An ICM survey of 1,001 adults for The Guardian found that 61% disapproved of the decision, against just 30% who approved.

One anxious Black Watch father in Scotland said he feared they were in for "one hell of a kicking".

James Buchanan, 56, from Arbroath in Angus has two sons, Gary, 32, and Craig 27, both corporals with the Perth-based regiment in Iraq.

He said: "It wasn't a cake walk in Basra but it's going to be a lot, lot more dangerous up there. They're going to get one hell of a kicking this time.

"If the Americans couldn't control the place, how are 800 of our boys meant to?

"They (the militia) are going to shoot and shoot and shoot and if the Americans invade the holy city, it's going to be even worse.

"The (Black Watch) boys should just get their heads down and do the job. They'll be apprehensive but they'll be hyped up and wanting to get in there and kick butt."