CHESHIRES soldiers were playing football with Iraqi children when their 'hearts and minds' campaign was ambushed by grim news from home.
Publicity about torture photographs, now known to be fake, resulted in a bounty being placed on their heads - and caused a huge setback to their work with the locals in Basra.
It also resulted in public confusion and a sense of betrayal among soldiers' families across the county, say council chiefs, who have told soldiers from Mid Cheshire and their TA colleagues in Iraq: 'We back you to the hilt'.
Political leaders responded unanimously to a plea from council chairman Barrie Hardern to 'fly the flag' for the 1st Battalion 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment's work in Basra.
He said he shares the concern of service families that the bad publicity has sullied and obscured the true story of their bravery and achievements.
He told the council: 'This is not about the rights and wrongs of Iraq. This is all about our young men - many of them just 18 - doing a first-class job keeping the peace and doing their best to help rebuild Basra as well.
'They are in touch daily with what is going on at home and they are well aware of the false impressions given by these photographs. I would be deeply ashamed if one single soldier thought that we doubted them and the job they are doing.
'They deserve our support, their parents deserve our support and I would like every member of this county council to help me ensure that they know they are getting it.'
The council agreed to send an official letter of support from the chairman and signed by the leaders of all political groups to the regiment's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Donnelly, in Basra.
On Thursday, regiment colonel Major General Keith Skempton was in the council chamber to receive the message, which is meant for every soldier in the regiment.