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100th British soldier dies in Iraq

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Two British soldiers have died in southern Iraq this week, bringing the number of the UK force to die during the conflict to 100, a Ministry of Defence statement said.

Corporal Gordon Pritchard, 31, from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards died after his convoy was struck by a blast in the southern port of Umm Qasr in Basra province on Tuesday. Three other soldiers were wounded in the same incident -- one seriously.

Another British soldier died Monday morning after his patrol came under fire in Maysan province.

The dead and injured soldiers were all from the 7th Armoured Brigade, the main British force in Iraq. The three injured soldiers were being treated at a British base.

Anti-war campaigners in Britain seized on the 100th death to once again demand Britain pull out of Iraq.

The Stop The War Coalition was due to hold a vigil at parliament Tuesday evening to read out the names of the dead.

Left-wing Member of Parliament George Galloway, one of those reading out the names, told CNN it was a "melancholy milestone."

"We have just sent thousands of new soldiers to Afghanistan, if anything an even more dangerous mission. Events are marching in the direction of the vindication of the anti-war movement.

"Everything we said turned out to be right. Everything Mr Bush and Mr Blair said turned out to be false -- except where it was a deliberate falsehood."

The family of the 99th soldier killed, Lance Corporal Allan Douglas, said he, too, opposed the war and did not want to go.

"Allan was against the war," his father Walter told Scotland's Daily Record newspaper. "He couldn't see the point of it. But he thought it was his duty to be there and he had no choice."

Blair: No change of course

Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Britain would not change course, either in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Our response has got to be not to walk away from the situation but to redouble our efforts to make sure the people of Afghanistan and Iraq achieve the democracy they want," he told Reuters television.

"In achieving that, we enhance our own security here.

"We should give our thanks to the British troops and the extraordinary courage they have displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places in the world," he added.

"It is a tragedy when we lose any soldier but we have to understand why it's important to see it through."

In a sign of the political sensitivity of the milestone, Defence Secretary John Reid took the rare step of announcing the 100th death to reporters outside ministry headquarters.

"It's an appropriate time to reflect on the determination, courage, professionalism and sacrifice of our armed forces themselves, and of the families who also sustain them there," he said. "Every single one of the deaths is a tragedy."

Afghan mission

The latest deaths in Iraq came just days after Reid announced an ambitious new three-year British mission in southern Afghanistan, which will take NATO peacekeepers into that dangerous part of that country for the first time.

The Afghanistan plans were drawn up at a time when British leaders were hoping to cut back their forces in Iraq quickly, starting early this year. But unrest in southern Iraq has so far held up plans for a British withdrawal there.

Of the 100 who have died, 77 British troops are listed as killed in action and the rest died through accident or illness.

Britain suffered its first casualties in Iraq within hours of the invasion. American and Iraqi losses have been far higher.

The Americans have lost more than 2,200 soldiers while estimates on Iraqi dead, including civilians, are thought to be in the tens of thousands.

Most of Britain's 8,000 troops are based around the southern Iraqi city of Basra. A major port with a largely Shi'ite population of more than 1 million, Basra was thought to be relatively easy to control after the war thanks to the city's opposition to Saddam Hussein.

Initially, the British army's less aggressive approach towards patrolling won praise from locals and military experts alike, analysts told Reuters. While there were occasional outbreaks of violence it was only a fraction of the chaos that affected much of the central Sunni Arab regions of the country, where the U.S. operates.

But commanders told Reuters the area has become more dangerous over the past 8-9 months as guerrillas have developed deadlier forms of roadside bombs.

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