Northern Irish journalist John Irvine has described the dramatic moment he narrowly avoided death at the hands of a suicide bomber during the ferocious battle for Mosul.
Mr Irvine, who started life as a journalist at the Tyrone Constitution, now works as a senior international correspondent with ITV news. As he travelled to the front lines with a film crew to cover the battle to wrest control of the major Iraqi city of Mosul from the grasp of Islamist terror group Islamic State (also known as Daesh, IS, or ISIS), his convoy came under sniper fire and attack from suicide bombers.
In his report for ITV News, John Irvine described the dramatic moment suicide bombers narrowly missed the unit.
“A new day brought a fresh assault and taking the fight to IS for the first time were Iraq’s Special Forces, keen to quickly make their mark.
“The attack was a pincer movement and we were in the lead vehicle with a team of sappers who had to find safe passage through the landmines. Two led the way on foot but soon came under sniper fire. A gunship was called in - the sniping was ended. The explosives experts called for a tank to join them before leading them off road onto the safer ground that is the countryside.
“We were venturing into the so-called caliphate and the Iraqi forces put down a lot of suppressing fire but the tell-tail pings on our vehicle indicated that IS were still putting up a fight.”
Speaking directly to the camera in his report, Irvine describes what was going on around him as the unit came under fire: “We’re coming under sniper fire and firing back. That’s the problem with being in the lead vehicle in an offensive which, right now, is pretty slow going.”
He said: “The special forces fired on a saloon car which had overturned speeding down a road. When nothing happened, we wondered if the driver had been an innocent, just trying to flee the battlefield. No, he was a suicide bomber who’d missed us. When a plume appeared confirming a second suicide attack on the end of our convoy, the commander asked us all to be extra vigilant.”
He also described a suicide bomber heading directly for his vehicle. “At first our getaway faltered but soon we were bouncing over the rutted field, just hoping for the best.
“An explosion meant the tank had got him and we applauded the crew. That was the third car bomb suicide attack that we’ve seen. They are by far the most effective weapon that IS have against these advancing Iraqi forces but the Iraqis are getting better and better at dealing with them.
“When the Iraqis reached their objective we were glad that at the end of the day, all of us and our battered vehicle had come through - only it wasn’t the end of the day.” He described a fourth car bomb attack on the convoy, before adding: “The closer these Iraqi forces get, the harder this fight will become.”
Ulsterman John Irvine set up the ITV News Dubai bureau in 2010 and covers stories across the Indian sub continent, Africa and the Gulf region for ITV News. He won two Royal Television Society Awards for his reports on the Gulf War and was also the first ITV News correspondent to report from Port-au-Prince after the Haiti earthquake, forming part of the ITV News team that won a BAFTA for coverage of the disaster.