Families of Iraq war dead deliver plea to No 10

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At the very moment Tony Blair stood up in Parliament and offered his condolences to the families of two soldiers killed in Iraq on Tuesday, relatives of earlier victims of the conflict were standing in the cold outside the door of 10 Downing Street

The small crowd of grieving mothers and fathers made their way to the Prime Minister's home under the eye of heavily armed police, and handed in a letter asking him to meet them personally. The ranks of familiar faces were swelled by the parents of young men who have died within the past few months, as well as the mother of a soldier still serving in Iraq.

As the petitioners renewed their calls to bring the troops home, the Army named the members of the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, who were killed on Tuesday by a bomb in Amarah. They were Private Lee Ellis, 23, from Manchester, who had one child, and Captain Richard Holmes, 28, from Winchester, who married just before leaving for Iraq in October.

At Downing Street, Pauline Hickey, whose son Sergeant Christian Hickey, of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was killed in October, handed in a letter calling on Mr Blair to meet the families of the bereaved.

It read: "I am employed as a child protection social worker, and would be held accountable if a child was injured or died because of negligence to do my job adequately.

"There would be an inquiry. I accept this as part of my employment ... You too should be accountable for your actions, and there should be redress in the form of an inquiry, at the very least."

Although Mr Blair has agreed to find time to record an appearance on ITV's Parkinson show, he wrote this week to Rose Gentle, the mother of Fusilier Gordon Gentle, 19, who was killed in June 2004, saying: "I am afraid a meeting will not be possible."

The families said these refusals to meet privately were a repeated snub, and called on Mr Blair to have the courage to answer their questions in person.

Peter Brierley, whose son Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley, 28, was among the first to die in the conflict almost three years ago, said: "He has to listen to us eventually. We will come back again and again until we get answers."

Maureen Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon, 34, was killed by a bomb in September, ended her five-month silence and joined her husband, Roger, unexpectedly, explaining: "I think what brought it home was the news of the two soldiers last night in the same situation as Matthew. I just had to come today for Matthew."

Saddam admits link to executed Shias

Saddam Hussein admitted in court that he ordered the trial of 148 Shias who were later executed, claiming that they were suspected in an assassination attempt against him in July 1982.

Prosecutors presented the strongest evidence against the former dictator so far in the four-month trial: a 1984 presidential decree which approved death sentences for the Shias, with a signature said to be Saddam's. Among those killed were at least 10 juveniles, one of them as young as 11.

Saddam did not admit or deny approving the executions. "Where is the crime?" he asked. "Where is the crime?"

He and his seven co-defendants stand accused of the torture, imprisonment and execution of the Shias in a crackdown following the assassination attempt in Dujail. If convicted, they could face execution by hanging - the same fate as most of the 148.

The trial was adjourned until 12 March.

Oliver Duff