Criticism mounts as corporal dies in attack on UK base in Basra

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A soldier was killed in a mortar strike in Iraq yesterday, the first member of the British forces to die in a direct attack on a base.

The soldier, from the 1st Battalion, the Light Infantry, was named last night as Cpl Matthew Cornish, 29. He was at the perimeter of the building in Basra City when he was hit by shrapnel from the blast. He was flown to the nearby Shaiba logistics base, where he died from his injuries.

Squadron Leader Richard Painter said: "We do all that is reasonably possible under these circumstances. This one happened to actually fall within the perimeter. There are many, many mortar rounds used by insurgents that do not effectively fall anywhere near our bases."

The death took the number of British service personnel who have died in Iraq since the start of the US-led invasion three years ago to 115. The latest killing led to renewed concerns about the dangers faced by British forces in Iraq and Aghanistan.

The Labour MP Alan Simpson, a long-term critic of the military campaigns, said the deaths were further evidence that Afghanistan had become " mission impossible", while Iraq was "mission irretrievable". He said he believed troops would have to be pulled out of both countries "soon" because there was "no longer a plan" to work to.

Yesterday was another day of carnage across Iraq. Bombings and shootings killed more than 68 people, including dozens of Iraqi soldiers whose bus was destroyed by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad. In a separate incident, 45 people from Najaf, mostly Shia, were kidnapped while travelling by bus on the main highway through western Iraq to Syria and Jordan. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Some 8,000 British troops are stationed in Iraq's oil-rich south, where tensions are high, although the level of violence in Basra remains less savage than in Baghdad and other parts of the country.