Three British soldiers last night described the moment they leapt from their burning Warrior armoured vehicle when they were set upon by an Iraqi mob.

The servicemen described how they battled to escape from the vehicle when it was engulfed in flames after they were attacked in Basra with petrol bombs.

The soldiers - Sergeant George Long, 29, Private Ryon Burton, 20 and Lance Corporal Jo McCann, 19, from the 1st Battalion The Staffordshire Regiment - were pictured fleeing the Warrior as it burned.

In a television interview, Pte Burton said: "I couldn't breathe at all because of the fumes. I just needed to get out and was thinking about my life."

The petrol bombing happened on Monday after two SAS soldiers were seized by Iraqi police after they allegedly fired on other police in Basra. The men were later freed by British forces.

Pte Burton said: "I was on fire from the back. Tried to lift the (hatch) opening device which wouldn't open, so I had to lean back kick it (and) managed to get it to release.

"The hatch opened and I just jumped through the fire and got out."

Sgt Long said: "One of the petrol bombs came in, unfortunately, on top of me and my gunner. I had to get out because basically we were in flames."

Asked about the pictures of the burning vehicle, L Cpl McCann said: "It looks a lot worse than what it is. The Warrior is quite tough with all the armour. All it was, basically, was petrol on top of armour burning."

Meanwhile, in London, Defence Secretary John Reid staged a public show of unity with the Iraqi prime minister yesterday in an attempt to defuse tensions following the rescue of the SAS soldiers.

Mr Reid said there had been no fundamental breakdown of trust between British and Iraqi forces in Basra. He also insisted the strategy of training the Iraqi forces to take over responsibility for security remained on track.

Tory leadership hopeful Sir Malcolm Rifkind yesterday denounced the Iraq war as "the most serious foreign policy disaster" for Britain in the past 60 years and called on Tony Blair to resign.

He said: "Even Vietnam is not as bad as where we are now because at least in Vietnam, the Americans had been invited in by a government trying to protect themselves from Communism.

"Here we actually went in, created a war that would otherwise not have occurred and now we see a complete political vacuum."