Sir: In response to the deaths of seven British soldiers and the injury of four more, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said: "We shall continue to serve the Iraqi people in the way in which we have for as long as they, through their government, want us to be there."
Recent events in southern Iraq show that the environment British troops find themselves in has become much more hostile and unstable. Reports from soldiers conveyed to us by their families bear this out, with bases coming under daily mortar attack. Many people were shocked to see the scenes of British troops under attack from the local population after the Lynx crash. More British soldiers were injured by a bomb attack last weekend; again the incident was followed by public expressions of support for the attack from local Iraqis.
The Iraqis in south have tolerated the presence of British forces because they hoped that their lives would improve. Instead, three years on and it's got worse. Infant malnutrition has doubled, raw sewage still runs through the streets, power supplies are intermittent.
Six months ago the Iraqi people braved bombs and bullets to vote in an election. Finally, they have a "government" so divided by sectarian rivalries that it couldn't agree on who should take the posts of defence or interior minister. How can 8,000 British troops bring peace and security in the midst of a civil war and an insurgency, when daily they are defending themselves and their bases from attack?
A majority of Iraqis want the troops out now, the majority of the British people want the troops out now and the majority of the American people want the troops out now. The only people who don't want the troops out now are those whose political futures are tied to this whole misguided project. Bush and Blair have created a failed state. British troops, for all their professionalism and bravery, cannot alter this fact; it is time they were brought home and the authors of this disaster brought to book.
MILITARY FAMILIES AGAINST THE WAR LONDON WC1
Sir: Felicity King-Evans (letter, 19 May) repeats the canard put about by Tony Blair, backed by David Cameron, that British forces in Iraq are "serving our country". They are not; for the simple reason that the UK is not at war with Iraq, nor is Iraq a threat to us.
Rancour felt by our armed forces should be directed against the government which led them into an illegal invasion and bloody occupation. The tragedy of the Iraq disaster is that there is no halfway house. Ms King-Evans would gain far more sympathy if she took her foot off the patriotic duty pedal which the Government has exploited so ruthlessly.
BEXHILL ON SEA, EAST SUSSEX
Home Office makes the innocent suffer
Sir: The Home Office has dumped 240 years of British jurisprudence in a single week end. Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (c1765) laid down the maxim, "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer."
Not any more. The smug way in which the Home Office declares that there has only been a "tiny percentage" of people deprived of jobs, promotions and university places because of inaccurate identification in criminal records turns Blackstone on his head. The principle is now: it is better that one thousand innocent are punished than one guilty escape.
OSSETT, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: The Home Office's confusion of individuals with similar names could easily be avoided if all members of the population had a unique national identifier. No doubt the opposition parties who are now protesting so loudly would rally round any proposal for such a scheme.
Sir: Hundreds have been denied jobs and university places because the Home Office's Criminal Records Bureau mistakenly labelled them criminals, yet the Government assures us that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear. Why should we trust assurances over ID cards, biometric databases and other "security" measures?
Sir: If 3,000 criminal records have been assigned in error to innocent people, thus denying them access to sensitive jobs, then there are 3,000 criminals at loose without criminal records. What happens when they apply for these sensitive jobs?
LAURENCE A SHIELDS
Don't sneer at British values
Sir: While I enjoy Mark Steel's wit, he has gone too far in his sneering remarks about British values (17 May ). He has has not experienced living in countries where values we take for granted are non existent. He would not be able to write regular columns slagging off politicians and other powerful interests.
I came to this country from Kenya, along with many others, and it was the compassion and support of ordinary English, Scottish and Welsh people that helped us settle and prosper here. Amongst us there were the elderly, illiterate, disabled; all were absorbed in the system and given an opportunity to progress. A neighbour used to come and teach my mother English, a gesture we cannot forget. People like her and many unsung heroes, among them teachers, doctors and nurses, filled those essential gaps in our lives. It was British values that allowed us to freely practise our faiths. It was British values that created such institutions as the Commission for Racial Equality.
There is much to celebrate in modern Britain and it is right that newcomers to this country are made aware of it. A British value that Mark might know of is "benefit of the doubt". We were given that and we grasped it and came out winners. The continuous berating of British life is music to the ears of those who would like to see it destroyed.
Expensive calls for hospital patients
Sir: Letters about the cost of telephones for hosital patients (15 May) reminded me of when my mother was recently admitted to hospital. During her four-week stay she was advised that she could register with PatientLine and would get a telephone, television and radio at her bedside. I received an automated phone call from PatientLine telling me that we could call my mother for 49p per minute at peak times and 39p per minute off peak. My mother could call out for 10p per minute and the television was £3.50 per day.
I was somewhat horrified at the cost but decided to call my mother to let her know that I had got her number and ask her to call me as it was cheaper, although still exorbitant. I was subjected to 60 seconds of an answerphone message telling me that PatientLine would be charging me 49p per minute at peak times and 39p per minute off peak before being put through for a 20-second call.
I took this up with PatientLine and the response I got left me even more angry. In PatientLine's opinion the charges are reasonable; they spend over £1m per hospital installing equipment and have yet to see a return on their investment; they are providing an invaluable service to patients and taking some of the stress away from hospital staff and nurses. However as I - and I am sure I'm not the only one - refused to call on the PatientLine number but called the ward instead to talk to my mother I don't see how that helps the nursing staff.
HEBDEN BRIDGE, WEST YORKSHIRE
Special schools can be costly
Sir: What a pity to see a normally reflective newspaper such The Independent climbing aboard the bandwagon about inclusion (leading article, 17 May).
The NUT report comes to the conclusion that badly managed and under-funded inclusion harms children. True - but then so too do badly-managed and under-funded special schools. Yet we hear almost nothing about the hugely variable quality of the special sector.
In any case, the implication of poor-quality inclusive provision is not that inclusion should be abandoned, but that it should be taken seriously. The idea that New Labour governments have pursued a "fiercely pro-inclusion agenda" can only provoke hollow laughter from those of us who have tracked their timid efforts over the years.
As for the proposal that "an array of solutions should be on offer", presumably a Cameron-led Tory government would be delighted to meet the huge costs involved. Presumably it would be only too pleased to build more special schools as mainstream schools discovered ever-increasing numbers of children who would be "better off' somewhere else.
PROFESSOR OF EDUCATION UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER
Clueless audiences cracked by the code
Sir: So people have been flocking to cinemas to see The Da Vinci Code, despite scathing reviews (report, 22 May). I agreed to see it with a friend at the weekend. The cinema was full but I suspect most people were there to see what all the fuss was about, and not least because of the terrible weather. We found seats and the cinema became a punishment cell for the next two and a half hours. The snoring from the seat behind me said it all.
The film may have been a big success commercially but that merely proves that there's no such thing as bad publicity. If you are thinking of going to see this film, don't emerge feeling ripped off afterwards and say you weren't warned.
EASTBOURNE, EAST SUSSEX
Sir: "Nuclear power is back on the agenda with a vengeance" (Blair). Is this a cabinet decision? Has Parliament voted on it? Have the public been consulted? This is an issue of national importance fundamentally affecting future generations, and our "democracy" is nowhere in sight.
Sir: Nigel Havers says cyclists who ride on pavements or jump lights are "all bastards" (The 5-Minute Interview, 22 May). He should try spending a bit of time on a bike surrounded by one-and-a-half-ton murderous mental machines driven by bastards like him. He might then understand why cyclists are forced on to the pavement or feel the need to escape through red lights.
Queue for hearts
Sir: Jeremy Ridgway believes "donor hearts ... should be used first for citizens of this country" (letter, 19 May). However, many believe priority of medical treatment should be always based on clinical need. This belief has led to doctors treating enemy soldiers, and to people challenging the bureaucracy in our own health service in court. It is also a belief Mr Ridgway may be thankful for should he become ill abroad.
Latest new country
Sir: On 11 June, the football team of Serbia & Montenegro will play its opening match at the World Cup, against Holland. Montenegro now having voted to become an independent country, is Serbia going to play the first half and Montenegro the second?
Sir: Montenegro? Oh no, not another Eurovision contestant!
CARRICK~ON~SHANNON, CO LEITRIM
Death of a cliché
Sir. Regarding the traditional renaming of the director of the British Cliché Museum, (Miles Kington, 18 May). Do not forget there was one called John Barleycorn, but he "retired on health grounds".
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