Are British troops at breaking point in Iraq?

Fears that British forces in Iraq are reaching "breaking point" grew last night as the first hard evidence of a crisis in morale began to emerge.

Army sources are warning that the mood among soldiers of all ranks is at its gloomiest since the invasion in March 2003. The outlook has become darker as the war proves increasingly intractable and much more dangerous than troops had expected.

A string of incidents in the past week has contributed to the sense of crisis:

* The Ministry of Defence has launched an inquiry into the apparent suicide of Captain Ken Masters, a military police investigator who was found hanged at his barracks in Basra.

* A decision by Private Troy Samuels, who was awarded a Military Cross seven months ago for his bravery under fire in Iraq, to abandon the military rather than return for another tour of duty.

* Seventy soldiers from Private Samuels' battalion, the Princess of Wales Regiment (1PWRR), have also decided to leave the Army during the past year rather than return to Iraq

* An RAF officer, Flt-Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith, said he was prepared to face jail rather than serve in Iraq, in a war he considers to be illegal. He is to be court-martialled for "refusing to obey a lawful command" and is the first British officer to face criminal charges for challenging the legality of the war.

The increasingly desperate position of British troops in southern Iraq was highlighted last night by the former cabinet minister Clare Short. "The Government are putting the armed forces into an impossible position," she said. "It is obviously affecting morale."

Ms Short, who resigned over the war, is introducing a Bill on Friday to compel the Government to seek parliamentary approval before going to war again. She added: "An army officer stopped me in the street in Whitehall and said his job was talking to parents of those who had been killed in Iraq. He said he supported what I was doing. He said that his job was unbearable. I think the time has come to get a negotiated timetable for an end to the occupation."

Such a move seems unlikely, however. Recent comments by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, that British forces might have to stay in an increasingly volatile conflict for up to 10 more years have exacerbated fears among British forces that the conflict in which they are engaged is open-ended and lacking a credible exit strategy. There are currently 8,500 British troops in Iraq, most serving a six-month tour of duty. Claims have been made that many of those being sent out feel they do not have the experience to cope with the pressures.

According to Combat Stress, the military charity dedicated to helping soldiers suffering psychological problems, the seemingly indefinite struggle has created the greatest crisis of morale among British troops for decades.

Commodore Toby Elliott, the chief executive of Combat Stress, told The Independent that many soldiers were leaving the Army early in the hope that its psychological effects ­ flashbacks, nightmares and guilt that they had survived while colleagues had not ­ would abate. Commodore Elliot said: "The effects of the Iraq situation are comparable to serving in Northern Ireland during the worst of the Troubles when they were subjected to car-bomb attacks."

The incidents are symptomatic of a general malaise. One corporal said: " This has been a hard, hard tour. I would be glad not to be back in Iraq for a while." Another NCO added: "Mr Blair keeps on saying that everything is getting better here. Perhaps he would care to come and see for himself. He is pretty good at sending other peoples' sons to Iraq."

Pte Samuels' decision to leave the Army may be a particularly significantlandmark. A war hero, he was decorated for saving lives during the ambush which earned his comrade Pte Johnson Beharry a Victoria Cross. But he told The Independent yesterday that he decided to leave the moment he was told his unit would be returning to Iraq.

"I couldn't do that," he said, "Not straight away like that. It would be different if they were sending me to somewhere like Afghanistan ­ but not Iraq, right now. The stress for the guys out there is immense. They are seeing so much bad stuff. I owed it to my family to call it a day."

The current intensity of day-to-day combat is evident in the recent incident logs for Pte Samuel's regiment which show that soldiers have faced 109 individual attacks in a single day.

Capt Masters, 40, with 24 years' experience, had been involved in investigations of alleged mistreatment of detainees by British soldiers. Army sources have reported that the stress of investigating colleagues may have contributed to his death.

Pte Samuel's decision to leave showed that "psychological injuries" could affect the bravest of officers, said a spokesman for Combat Stress, which is helping 57 soldiers from the conflict.

Paul Beaver, a defence analyst with close links to senior staff, said: " There's obviously a disappointment that things have not gone better. But the main difference between army morale now and 12 months ago is that there is a resignation among the soldiers that they are in it for the long haul. There is also recognition that some of the elements [the Iraqi police] that they trusted can no longer be trusted and that they must fall back on their own resources."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes