Basra on suicide watch after deaths

British troops in Basra have been put on an unprecedented "suicide watch" following the death of three soldiers from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in just over two months.

Senior officers are perplexed at the suspected suicides at a time when UK forces are preparing to leave Iraq and there has been little hostile action. The Royal Military Police is investigating whether there were any links between the deaths. Posters have been put up at Basra airport's base asking personnel to monitor whether their comrades are exhibiting worrying symptoms.

One poster says: "Never let your mate fight alone. Worried about someone in your team? Be willing to listen. Not all wounds are visible ... Talk to your medical officer, Padre. " Another states: "Getting help is a sign of strength. No soldier stands alone."

Private Ryan Wrathall, 21, Corporal Lee Churcher, 32, and 27-year-old Lance Corporal David Wilson died between December 2008 and February 2009. Comrades said none had shown signs of stress or symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, one is believed to have received a letter from his girlfriend ending their relationship, and another was told his father was ill.

A senior officer aware of the situation said: "What's happened is strange. Technically we have to say that the deaths could still be accidents, but in reality these guys seem, sadly, to have taken their own lives. There has been talk of whether the men were worried about going to Afghanistan, but we haven't found evidence of that."