The family's tale: 'He can't wait to come back home'

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Many army families are now bracing themselves for "years of violence". As the insurgency spreads across Iraq, and the suicide bombings around Baghdad escalate, they fear that this conflict could become Britain's Vietnam.

Laura MacDonald, 22, whose husband Neil, 30, is a corporal with the Staffordshire Regiment, said her hopes that his regiment would return home safely next month were "ebbing away". She said: "He wears body armour and a helmet to sleep in because life out there is so hard at the moment. He can't talk about it on the phone because of security fears, but in the letters he sends, he says he hates it and can't wait to get back. He's told me all the troops he's with are having a horrible time and a lot of them think the war will go on for years and years. He thinks it's going to be another Vietnam-style siege."

For the MacDonalds, like every other service family in the Wiltshire garrison town of Tidworth, the graphic images of British troops jumping in flames from their burning armoured vehicles, being bombarded with petrol bombs and rocks, were terrifying.

Until now, Basra had escaped the worst of the violence gripping northern Iraq, and British forces seemed to be cementing their reputation for successful and intelligent peace-keeping. But in Tidworth, which sits close to Salisbury Plain, morale is slumping. One deeply pessimistic soldier, who did not want to be named, said he was being sent to Iraq later this year. "The Government is doing virtually nothing to ease political tensions, so it's left to us to fight the war for them," he said.

"The way things are going, I can only assume hundreds more will die."

Mrs MacDonald said the troops faced daily attacks and that life at the present time for her and her two-year-old daughter Asia-Mai was "unbearable".

She added: "I try not to think about what could happen to Neil but with these latest attacks in Basra, I can't help but wonder."