BRITAIN suffered one of its bleakest days in post-war Iraq yesterday, with the deaths of two soldiers patrolling in Basra and two journalists in Baghdad.
The soldiers, from the Queen's Dragoon Guards, were killed by a bomb that tore through the limited armour plating on their Land Rover. The journalists, a cameraman and soundman working for CBS, the American network, were the victims of a car bomb.
The killings brought to 11 the number of British deaths this month -the highest toll since the invasion in 2003 -and the total number of attacks on British troops this year to nearly 300.
In Basra province alone, there were 180 incidents between January and mid May.
Military sources said that all involved enemy fire of some kind, including roadside bombs, mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks.
Death visits those living and working in Baghdad every day -a further 32 people were killed yesterday -but sometimes it strikes very close to home. Kimberly Dozier, a CBS correspondent seriously wounded in the bombing that killed the British journalists, is a trusted colleague. We met last at the weekend at a lunch with a US army general, when she was as warm and engaging as ever.
Yesterday Ms Dozier, 39, and her television crew were riding in a US Army humvee by Tahrir Square, in central Baghdad, when a car bomb blew up alongside their vehicle. They had gone out to film a special Memorial Day broadcast but for some reason stopped on their way back to base and were killed standing in the open hatch.
The veteran cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, and soundman James Brolan, 42, both Britons, were killed instantly. An American soldier and an Iraqi contractor also died.
Ms Dozier, who has reported from Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan, and who used to report for the BBC World Service was operated on in Baghdad then flown to a US military hospital in Germany in a critical condition. She holds both British and American citizenship.
The explosion was the type of event that the three journalists had reported on a hundred times in the past, perhaps even from the same dirty, dilapidated city plaza where they were attacked.
I can only imagine what they were thinking when they started out on their embed with a joint Iraqi-US patrol that morning. Probably for a second they had the fleeting thought that this could be the time when things went wrong. I know I've had that feeling a million times here. But the moment passes and you shut it out, or it would be impossible to work in Baghdad.
They were probably happy to be free of their hotel doing what they loved, reporting. It is likely that they had a great story and the time was flying,all their anxiety faded. They knew that they would soon be back at their hotel, away from Baghdad's grim streets. Then the convoy made its fatal pause.
One does not have to spend too much time in Iraq to know someone, whether American, British, Iraqi or some other nationality, who has died, been kidnapped or seriously wounded. Trouble finds you and sometimes it just hits too close to home.
When I heard the news about the CBS crew, I was waiting with a colleague for a ride out of Baghdad's green zone. We were looking at a grim maze of blast walls, barbed wire and Iraqi soldiers gripping Kalashnikovs. There was not much either of us could say. We wondered why it happened to them. We'd had our tight scrapes and came out fine and wondered if there was any logic to who lived and died, or if it was all just completely random.
I have known Kimberly Dozier on and off for the past three years. She was someone you liked seeing. Tall, smiling, with blonde hair, she was friendly and always upbeat.
She went out with a team that morning she trusted. Mr Douglas, from Wootton, Bedfordshire, was a veteran cameraman, whose colleagues loved him for his soft-spoken and calm demeanour. In Baghdad, his team affectionately called him "blast wall" because of his big size. He had worked for CBS in danger zones that included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Rwanda and Bosnia. He leaves a wife, Linda, daughters Kelly, 29, and Joanne, 26, and three grandchildren.
James Brolan, from Tufnell Park, London, was a freelancer who had worked with CBS in Baghdad and Afghanistan. He was part of the CBS News team that received a 2006 Overseas Press Club Award for its reporting on the Pakistan earthquake.
Mr Brolan and his wife of 20 years, Geraldine, have two children, Sam, 17, and Agatha, 12. His family described him as "the best dad, the best husband and the best mate to be with in a tight spot out in the field".