Military resists sending more troops to Iraq 'quagmire'

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Defence chiefs are resisting calls for British troops to be sent to join American forces in Baghdad because they could be "sucked into a quagmire".

Defence chiefs are resisting calls for British troops to be sent to join American forces in Baghdad because they could be "sucked into a quagmire".

Although the Ministry of Defence's official position is that sending units to the Iraqi capital would risk "overstretch", senior officers are believed to have told Tony Blair such a deployment would inevitably mean British soldiers getting caught up in the rising tide of anti-American violence.

Military commanders privately accept that if sufficient pressure is brought to bear by Washington, Downing Street may feel obliged to send British troops to Baghdad.

The US officially requested two weeks ago that the British Army's 16th Air Assault Brigade be sent to Baghdad. Defence chiefs rejected the request but have since been under pressure from Downing Street to reconsider.

Despite the adverse publicity generated by the alleged heavy-handed actions of some British troops, senior officers insist they are happy with the way things have gone in areas under their control in southern Iraq. They stress there have been very few attacks on British forces by Iraqis and point to progress, such as the handing over of Umm Qasr to a civilian administration.

By contrast, American forces in Baghdad and Fallujah have come under repeated attack from Iraqis. Five American soldiers were killed in one week, and Paul Bremer, the new US administrator for Iraq, acknowledged "a serious law and order problem". More than 1,500 US troops have moved into areas around Fallujah, central Iraq, where confrontations with the Americans have left 18 civilians dead and about 80 injured. In other incidents, American troops shot dead 15 demonstrators in the northern city of Mosul.

The Americans claim Saddam Hussein's loyalists are organising violence. Promising a robust response, Lieutenant- General David McKiernan said: "We will apply all the necessary combat power to make sure opposition is removed."

One of the main reasons the US Central Command sounded out London on the possibility of sending contingents to the American-controlled zones was because of the relative success of British troops in policing roles. British officers feel the aggressive actions of the Americans in some incidents resulted in anger that may be taken out on British soldiers.

Almost 15,000 British and 145,000 Americans remain in Iraq two months after the capture of Baghdad. At the beginning of May, Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, said about 6,500 of the British contingent would be withdrawn. Since then, because of the continuing violence, the promised withdrawal has been delayed.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce said before his retirement as Chief of the Defence Staff that the deployment of 45,000 military personnel to the Gulf had overstretched the Army, and Britain could not take part in another war for two years.