General says Prime Minister puts soldiers' lives 'unnecessarily at risk'

Tony Blair is today accused of "disgraceful hand-washing" in Iraq by a former British Army chief, the latest attack on the Government by an increasingly outspoken military.

General Sir Michael Rose, the former commander of British troops in Bosnia, accuses the Prime Minister of putting British soldiers at "considerable and quite unnecessary risk" in Iraq, in an article for today's Independent on Sunday.

His remarks follow those of the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, and of the Army's commander in Iraq, Major General Richard Shirreff.

Maj-Gen Shirreff said on Wednesday that a "generation of underfunding and neglect in political terms" was undermining soldiers' capacity to protect themselves. His remarks follow those of General Dannatt's pledge to "stand up for what is right" for the troops.

In his article, Sir Michael says it is "tremendously heartening" for soldiers to see their "present bosses standing up for them".

The former commander goes far further than his still-serving colleagues, in voicing in public views that he says are now almost universal in all ranks.

"In return for being prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, our servicemen and women should expect to be better supported by the country than they have been," he writes.

Although overall defence spending has increased over recent years, Sir Michael says Tony Blair has presided over a reduction in troop numbers just as they are needed to fight the insurgencies.

He says the British PM and US President are trying to "evade responsibility" for the state of Iraq. "They tell us it is the Iraqi government that runs the country. This is disgraceful hand-washing. They know, under the Geneva Conventions, they were responsible for the disastrous breakdown of law and order in the country they invaded."

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