Gethin Chamberlain of The Scotsman with the Black Watch, Iraq, 26 March 2003
JUST after dawn yesterday the Warrior crashed through the wall of the house tucked away down a side road in the Iraqi town of Al Zubayr, west of Basra.
The first inkling those sleeping inside had that anything was wrong was when it hit the 10ft high perimeter wall, accelerating all the time.
Bricks flying everywhere, it plunged on straight into the side of the house, the driver wincing as debris showered down on the metal hatch above his head.
By the time those inside the house realised what was happening, it was too late. British troops were swarming through what was left of the two-storey blue-bricked building, determined that their quarry would not escape.
And they had good reason not to want to let him get away. The man they were after was a leading official of the ruling Ba’ath party, which is orchestrating military resistance against British and U.S. troops and is hated by ordinary Iraqis.
The man was suspected of involvement in an attack on a Land Rover carrying two Royal Engineers a couple of days earlier. Neither man has been seen since.
Outside, a fierce firefight had broken out, as those militia men in neighbouring houses who were supposed to be on guard awoke to the danger.
Bullets and rocket propelled grenades flew through the air as they opened fire, but the men of D Company of the Black Watch had come in strength.
With rounds ricochetting off the ground in front of them, they poured out of their armoured vehicles, hitting the ground running and letting fly with everything in their armoury.
Rifles, grenades, the Warriors’ 30 millimetre main guns, chain guns and even an antitank missile were turned on the defenders. Within minutes, several Iraqis were dead and many more lay injured.
Lance Corporal Colin Edwards, heart pounding, was giving the Iraqi defenders everything he had got. A few moments earlier, the 19-year-old from Dundee had been sitting nervously in the back of his Warrior, listening to the Commander running through the final instructions for the attack over the clatter of their own machine gun as it blasted away.
When the doors swung open, he leapt out and opened up in the direction of the muzzle flashes of the Iraqi guns.
‘As soon as we jumped out, the chain gun was going,’ he said.
‘There was small arms rounds bouncing off the ground right in front of us but we were firing away at them too, trying to keep their heads down.
‘Everything was going in, grenades, Warriors laying down 30 millimetre fire, antitank weapons, everything.’ Inside the lead Warrior, Major Douggie Hay, the man masterminding the operation, was enjoying the moment.
He had been planning the raid all day, since his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Riddell-Webster, had warned him that morning that he and his men may have to undertake a slightly tricky operation.
‘We knew where the house was and that the Ba’ath party official was probably there, but it wasn’t until 9pm that the CO said we were on for it,’ he said.
‘Then we went up to plan the final bit of the raid, which was the snatch itself.’ With 120 men and a troop of tanks, he was confident they had the resources to carry out a successful operation, but they ran through it a couple of times before heading off just after 5.15am yesterday.
‘We planned it so we went in just as the light was up, giving us enough light to see where we were going but also to achieve some surprise.
‘As we drove through the town, there was no one around at all.’ Driving down narrow streets, they spotted their target just before 5.40am, a square house about 20ft high, flat roofed and surrounded by a high defensive perimeter wall. We sped straight at the target house with three Warriors next to me, ramming the protective brick wall into the house and the assault started.
‘The driver said it was surreal sitting in the driver’s seat watching the wall fall down on him.’ He added: ‘Everyone was still in bed or just getting up, it was really quiet. But after a couple of minutes they started opening up on us, firing at us from two or three positions outside the house. The place came alive almost instantaneously.
‘One of our lads got a shrapnel wound from the initial burst of fire, but nothing of great consequence. It went right between him and the bloke next to him as they tried to batter down a door.’ The target house, they discovered, was defended not just by the perimeter wall but by militia men positioned in the nearby buildings.
But with the guards occupied by the tanks and Warrior teams, those inside the house had time to carry out a thorough search.
Grabbing the man they were after, they bundled him into the back of the Warrior, now half buried beneath the shattered brick work of the living-room wall.
With the engine screaming, the driver slammed it into reverse and they were off, leaving as quickly as they had arrived.
A job well done, the CO said later. Now the Iraqis knew they were there and that they meant business.