Tony Blair faces an unprecedented revolt from the wives and mothers of serving soldiers, who want British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Dozens of women whose sons, husbands and daughters are now in the Gulf or have served there, have joined a national campaign to be launched this week calling for Britain to pull out of Iraq. In a strongly worded statement passed to the IoS, they claim the war in Iraq "was based on lies", and call for British withdrawal "as a matter of urgency".
The organisers of Military Families Against the War, set up by the parents of dead armed forces personnel last year, say their movement is supported by hundreds of service families and that more than 100 families and veterans are actively involved.
Lynda Holmes, 55, a nurse, whose son is a Guardsman in Iraq, said. "Our forces are risking their lives for an illegal war. So many have been killed. I'm not anti-Army. I'm not anti what my son does. I'm just anti this war."
The campaign comes in the wake of the bloodiest few weeks for British troops and civilians since the end of the war three years ago, with nine armed forces personnel and two journalists killed last month. They include the first woman to die in action, Flt Lt Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill, 32, one of five helicopter crew killed in a crash in Basra. Their deaths brought the total British military death toll to 113.
Twenty-eight people were killed and dozens were injured yesterday in a car-bomb attack in the British-held city of Basra, while in Baghdad insurgents killed a Russian diplomat and kidnapped four others. Outside the capital, eight severed heads were found; in Baquba, six policemen were killed at a checkpoint.
The new campaign, which is being launched in London on Saturday by wives and mothers of serving soldiers, will culminate in a protest march by the families at Labour's annual conference in Manchester in September. Their protests will deeply trouble senior military commanders and alarm ministers. Military families have traditionally refused to complain in public about ongoing wars because of loyalty and the risks to relatives' careers andmorale.
The outgoing commander of Sandhurst officers' training college admitted yesterday that the "mum factor" was having a significant impact on army recruitment, which is 15 per cent below target. Maj-Gen Andrew Ritchie said the Army's involvement in an unpopular conflict and the dangers of serving in Basra and Baghdad had undermined support.
"Mums find Iraq deeply unpopular - they are concerned that their youngsters will be exposed to real risk and danger," he said. "That worries them. And mums are hugely influential in boys and girls joining the Army."
The unprecedented campaign is likely to face complaints that it will harm troops' morale in Iraq by making soldiers feel even more uncomfortable serving there.
Several mothers have told the IoS their sons are increasingly unhappy about doing further tours in Iraq, because of the increasing hostility from ordinary Iraqis and the growing strength of the insurgency. Others who back the campaign said they would not speak publicly because it could make trouble for their husbands, daughters and sons.
The women going public said they have a moral and personal duty to protest because, they claim, the coalition has clearly failed to bring peace and stability to Iraq. Their sons and husbands signed up to defend "Queen and country", not to fight "cowboy actions". Dani Hamilton-Withall, from St Austell in Cornwall, said: "If anything happened to my son and I had done nothing I couldn't live with myself."
A petition to be handed in to Downing Street is on the campaign website, www.mfaw.org.uk.
A spokewoman for No 10 said: "We respect the right of individuals to express their views, but the Government believes that what's important is the wishes of the Iraqi people, as expressed through Iraq's democratically elected government."