Sharp rise in number of UK battle casualties

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One British soldier was seriously wounded in Iraq every three days during October, one of the highest rates of battle casualties since the conflict began in March 2003. The figure is double the average monthly casualty rate for the first nine months of 2006.

The main British field hospital in Iraq, Shaibah "Role 3", has treated more than 7,600 British soldiers and civilians since the invasion - 283 of whom were seriously wounded in battle - more than the total number of British troops now in the country. More than 4,500 were sufficiently ill to need airlifting home.

A comparison of the latest figures on the MoD website with those posted a month ago suggest the number of Britons wounded in action, the number admitted to hospital for other reasons, and the number airlifted out are all rising.

In October, 10 soldiers needed hospital treatment for battle injuries, compared with an average of less than five a month for January to September. Another 103 British soldiers and civilians needed hospital treatment for causes including heat stroke and traffic accidents, compared with a previous average of 70 a month. Eighty were flown to the UK for treatment, compared with an earlier monthly average of 60.

These figures include only those who were injured badly enough to be sent to hospital. The MoD has not released the number of soldiers who have had treatment for minor battle injuries.

The number of soldiers killed in action is also rising, with five dead in the first two weeks of November, including four on Sunday when their boat was attacked in the Shatt al Arab waterway.

The total killed in action in the previous three years and nine months was 90. Thirty others died from illness or accidents. Shaibah hospital took in 958 patients between January and October 2006. In the same period, the Army airlifted 613 military or civilian personnel to the UK for medical treatment. Most were sent to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, where security has beeen improved to protect military patients.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: "It's clear that the morass that is Iraq is becoming worse rather than better. This is something the Government to want to keep quiet. The last thing they want is for the public to know the scale of the problem."