DAY THE 100th BRITISH VICTIM IN IRAO SHARED A SMILE WITH THE PM; BLAIR SLAMMED AFTER PHOTOCALL SOLDIER IS KILLED

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Byline: By Pippa Crerar

TONY Blair met the 100th British soldier to die in Iraq during his last visit to the war-torn country, it emerged yesterday.

The PM was pictured chatting to Edinburgh-born Corporal Gordon Pritchard and his colleagues at Shaibah logistics base six weeks ago.

Downing Street revealed that he felt particularly moved by the 31-year-old Scots Dragoon Guard's death because the pair had met.

The married dad-of-three was killed when a booby-trap bomb hit his Land-Rover in the southern port of Um Qasr on Tuesday.

His death came just a day after another Scot, Lance-Corporal Allan Douglas, 22, of Aberdeen, was the 99th vicitm.

The deaths sparked renewed calls from politicians, families of those killed and anti-war campaigners for our troops to be brought home.

Senior politicians hinted yesterday that British forces could be withdrawn from Iraq within the year.

Downing Street admitted the PM had met Gordon after his widow suggested Blair had exploited the Iraq visit to boost his own image.

Tearful Julie-Anne Pritchard said: "He's in the papers today and he was in the papers shaking Tony Blair's hand at Christmas."

Speaking from her mother's house in Somerset, the Scot's distraught widow added: "I'm in an awful state and don't want to talk."

Julie-Anne and the three children - Stacey, Harrison and Summer - have been with relatives in the West Country since Gordon was posted to Iraq from the 7th Armoured Brigade's base in Germany.

The PM's spokesman defended the trip to Iraq and Blair's decision to pose for pictures with frontline troops. He said: "What the Prime Minister found useful about the trip to Basra was to hear from frontline soldiers their view about the increasing capacity of the Iraqi troops with whom they worked.

"In the end, it will be that which will help secure the future of Iraq and make Iraq a more stable country, which is in our interests as well."

The spokesman said any contact between the Prime Minister and the Pritchard family would be a "private" matter.

Later, Blair told MPs that the country owed the dead soldiers "an enormous debt of gratitude".

Gordon followed in the footsteps of his father Bill and brother Peter when he joined the Scots Dragoon Guards at 17. …