If proof were really needed of the bloodbath that Iraq has come to represent for occupying British forces, then May 2006 has delivered it. The month which ends today has been the bloodiest for Britain since Iraq was occupied three years ago, leaving 11 Britons dead, many injured and the calls for withdrawal more urgent than ever before.
As the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, admitted yesterday that the "spike " in insurgent violence was a source of "major concern," two former defence ministers warned that withdrawal was imperative amid the signs of deepening chaos. Doug Henderson, a former defence and foreign minister, called for an "orderly withdrawal" of British forces. "It is very difficult for our troops. There is no sense of the job being done," he said. Peter Kilfoyle, a former armed forces minister, added: "A decision has to be made very shortly whether we are serving any useful purpose in Iraq any longer. I don't believe that is the case."
Their comments came as details emerged of the latest young British soldiers to perish in Iraq: Lt Tom Mildinhall, a brilliant sportsman, scientist, musician and army officer, and L/Cpl Paul "Fas" Farrelly, of Runcorn, Cheshire, a committed family man who leaves a wife and three children.
Lt Mildinhall was more acutely aware than most of the risks attached to serving in Iraq. On 15 April, he lost his friend Richard Palmer, a member of the same Durham University college tutor group, to a roadside bomb near Ad Dayr, north of Basra.
Lt Mildinhall and L/Cpl Farrelly died in the same way, when their armoured Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb at Gizayza, north-west Basra, on Sunday evening. "We have lost a beautiful, talented and loving son for ever," said Lt Mildinhall's parents, Colin and Susan, from their home in Battersea, south London. "Our world is in pieces and our country has again lost one of its best."
The month has also seen five service personnel die in a military helicopter crash on 6 May. Pte Joseva Lewaicei, 25, and Pte Adam Morris, 19, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment were killed in a roadside bomb explosion outside Basra on 13 May, and the British journalists Paul Douglas, 48, and James Brolan, 42, perished when their CBS television news crew was caught up in an attack on a US convoy on Sunday. Only in January 2005, when 10 servicemen died in an RAF Hercules transport aircraft crash, have more British service personnel died in a single month since the initial occupation of March 2003 claimed 27 lives.
In all, 113 British forces have died. Mr Browne said it was unclear whether the escalation in violence was related to the hiatus of political control since the Iraqi elections or a sustained increase in resistance.
Lt Mildinhall, 26, was a model officer. He was educated at Monkton Combe school in Bath, where he was remembered as an excellent rower, before securing a place at Durham University, where he studied Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science from 1999 to 2002. He had much in common with his friend Richard Palmer. Their fathers were both retired army officers, they were in the same tutor group at the university's St Hild and St Bede College before moving on to Sandhurst, and they both loved sport.
At Durham, Lt Mildinhall rowed for the college first eight and university second eight, and had international trials. He was a popular member of his regimental ski team and keen downhill ski instructor. He also played saxophone and piano.
After completing his officer training at Sandhurst in April 2004 he was commissioned into the Queens Dragoon Guards and first sent to Iraq in November 2004 where he helped train Iraqi border police. He began his second deployment to the country a month ago. He and L/Cpl Farrelly, both members of their regiment's A Squadron, were supporting Iraqi security services when they died on patrol. The MoD said Lt Mildinhall, whose younger brother John is a PhD student at Bristol University, would be remembered for his " extremely dry sense of humour and razor-sharp wit that often left everyone in stitches". He was said to be a close friend to many in the officers' mess but was also close to his soldiers.
L/Cpl Farrelly, grew up in Runcorn and moved to Rhyl, north Wales, when he was 16. He enlisted into the Army in March 2002, was judged top recruit during his basic training in Winchester, and began his third deployment to Iraq a month ago.
A keen footballer and regular member of the regimental first XI, he was "an all-round sportsman and never happier than with a ball or a bat," said the MoD. He was also a committed family man, who leaves his wife Natalie, and their three children, Reece, Morgan and Brooke. "He was devoted to his wife and three young children and was adamant that family came first above all things," said Lt-Col Anthony Pittman, his commanding officer.
Lt Palmer is remembered by the eloquent public statement by his parents last month. Lt Mildinhall's parents paid him no less a tribute yesterday. " We share the pain of the soldiers and the families of the others injured and killed in this incident," they said. "For those parents who have lost sons and daughters in this way, we are now with them. For those who will have to go through this in the future; we are here."
A statement by the parents of Lieutenant Tom Mildinhall, aged 26, who died in the attack in Basra on Sunday with the married father-of-three Lance Corporal Paul Farrelly:
"This is an ordeal I would not wish any mother and father to endure.
For those parents who have lost sons and daughters in this way, we are now with them. For those who will have to go through this in the future; we are here.
"We share the pain of the soldiers and the families of the others injured and killed in this incident. We have lost a beautiful, talented and loving son forever. Our world is in pieces and our country has again lost one of its best. Our hope is that in time our family may reassemble those pieces into some form of normality.
"Tom achieved an immense amount in his life. He rowed at school and at Durham University and skied with us from an early age. He talked proudly of his regiment and enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers.
"We are very grateful for the support of our friends, Tom's friends and colleagues from school and university, and also for the outstanding help we are receiving from the Army."
Saturday, 6 May
A Lynx helicopter crashes in Basra, killing five British troops. They include:
Flight Lieutenant Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill, 32, first woman killed in action
Wing Commander John Coxen, 46, the most senior British officer killed in Iraq
Lieutenant Commander Darren Chapman, 40
Captain David Dobson, 27
Marine Paul Collins, 21, all of the 847 Naval Air Squadron in Yeovilton
Saturday, 13 May
A roadside bomb explodes just outside Basra, killing two soldiers
Private Joseva Lewaicei, 25
Private Adam Morris, 19, both from the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment
Monday, 15 May
In the heaviest attack on British troops for many months, three female Privates receive shrapnel injuries when the small British camp in Maysan is pounded by 56 mortars and rockets. An officer describes the scene as " carnage". A fourth
soldier is seriously injured and taken to military hospital. Five more female soldiers are treated for shock.
Saturday, 20 May
Two British soldiers are wounded by an early-morning roadside bomb attack while on patrol in north-west Basra, their unit ambushed with bombs, grenades and petrol bombs. A mob surrounds the burning vehicle - one Iraqi brandishes a British helmet.
Sunday, 28 May
An armoured Land Rover on routine patrol in Gizayza, north west Basra is struck by a roadside bomb. Two are killed.
Lieutenant Tom Mildinhall, 26
Lance Corporal Paul Farrelly, 27, both of the 1st Queen's Dragoon Guards (The Welsh Cavalry)
Monday, 29 May
Two British TV journalists are killed in a car bomb attack in Baghdad. Their colleague, Kimberly Dozier, is critically injured.
Soundman James Brolan, 42, of Tufnell Park, north London
Paul Douglas, 48, of Wootton, BedfordshireReuse content