Sunday, November 06, 2005

Iraq battle stress worse than WWII - Sunday Times - Times Online

Iraq battle stress worse than WWII - Sunday Times - Times Online


Iraq battle stress worse than WWII
MICHAEL SMITH
SENIOR army doctors have warned that troops in Iraq are suffering levels of battle stress not experienced since the second world war because of fears that if they shoot an insurgent, they will end up in court.

The two senior Royal Army Medical Corps officers, one of whom is a psychologist, have recently returned from Basra, where they said they counselled young soldiers who feared a military police investigation as much as they did the insurgents.

The revelations follow the collapse last week of the court martial of seven paratroopers accused of murdering an Iraqi who died near al- Amarah just after the war and amid signs of a dramatic drop in morale among frontline infantry soldiers.

The doctors’ warnings came in post-operational reports submitted by senior officers to their formation commanders after serving in a battle zone. They are exceptional because of their content.

One source said: “There doesn’t appear to be any overt consideration or understanding of the pressures that our soldiers are under.

“The unpopularity of the war at home and a belief that firing their rifles in virtually any circumstances is likely to see them end up in court are sapping morale.”

One corporal said that troops arriving in Basra were confronted by warnings from the Royal Military Police. “They make it clear that any and every incident will be investigated. It is also made clear that if you shoot someone, you will face an inquiry that could take up to a year.

“The faces of the young lads straight out of training drop as the fear of being investigated strikes home and many ask whose side the RMP are on.”

Although the levels of fighting in Iraq are nowhere near those of some of the bloodiest battles of the second world war, such as the battle of the bulge or Kohima, the much more complex situation that the British troops face is pushing up stress levels just as far.

The combination of knowing that death might come at any time from a roadside bomb and that shooting back at Iraqis who attack them might result in their being court-martialled is putting immense pressure on young soldiers.

The doctors described morale in some units as very low with soldiers cynically suggesting they needed a solicitor with them before they shot back at any Iraqi who attacked them.

Many frontline infantry soldiers were in survival mode and had the impression that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is not supporting them and nobody in the UK cares about what is happening in Iraq, the officers said.

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