A soldier serving in the front line of the War on Terror has blamed peace activists for lowering morale and called on the public to back the Army's efforts in Iraq.

Michael Kelly, 22, of Shakespeare Road, Worthing, spoke as he returned home from a tour of duty in Basra the Fifth Regiment of the Royal Artillery.

His criticism will be seen as a stinging blow to the anti-war campaign which has thousands of supporters in Sussex and regularly organises protests across the county.

He said: "We were working closely with the Iraqi people, helping them with their crops and showing them how we do things back home.

"I was mostly working with the medics within the hospital but the Iraqis seemed very friendly to me.

"We got to see lots of the anti-war protests on the television and it was hard to see people back home giving us grief.

"It put morale down and made us wonder how welcome we were back home."

Mr Kelly is on leave and plans to go on holiday to Scotland with girlfriend Chrissie Fairbrother, 21, before going back to his regiment and then again to Iraq, possibly in November.

He said: "I've never really looked into the politics - it's a job that we have to do. It's what I signed up for and I'm gutted we are out there in some ways. But we are making a difference to the country.

"It's not up to us and we can't really decide, that's why I don't like seeing all this anti-war protesting. If they supported us more it would be a lot better."

Mr Kelly described his average day in Basra as "avoiding mortars and rockets" and said that while he had lost friends and endured the emotional intensity of being in a war zone, it has overall been a positive experience because of the camaraderie among the soldiers.

He said: "I don't know how I'm going to adjust back into life here and I don't know how I'm going to talk to people about it."

Serving with the Fifth Regiment of the Royal Artillery, the dedicated Albion supporter, originally from Portslade, has grown close to his comrades.

He said: "It's amazing. You never feel alone whatever's happening."

Mr Kelly described the Army's job in Iraq as a peacekeeping mission but added it still felt like a war.

He said: "You are always on alert and you always have the mortars and alarms going off and although you do get some time to sleep, you are always on the alert .

"I was out the other day and a car, while parking, ran over something. There was a massive pop and I went down. Everyone in the street was looking at me."

Contrary to media reports in the UK, Michael said the Army supplies soldiers adequately.

He said British soldiers received a warmer welcome from the Iraqis than American troops.

He told The Argus: "The British get better treatment from the Iraqis. They understand that we are there to regenerate Iraq as a country. The Shiites and the other insurgents fight each other and we're in the middle of it.

"Coming back home I just want people to know that when they're going about their daily lives that out there, it's a different world.

"Soldiers might say they're not scared but everyone gets scared - you have got to think about other things. It scares people back home more than anything.

"Everyone has lost some people out there but you've just got to move on and get the job done."

Glen Williams, of Sussex Action for Peace, said: "It is everybody's duty to protest - from my point of view the solidiers should not be angry at anti-war protesters, they should be questioning the Government who has sent them on an illegal war.

"I have got sympathy with the families of those in Iraq and I have sympathy with the Iraqis but it is the duty of anybody who doesn't support the war to stand up and say that they disagree with it."

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