|British death rate in Iraq higher than US
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Deaths pers 1000 personnel-years in Iraq
Britain - 8.8
United States - 7.3
British troops serving in Iraq are being killed at a proportionally greater rate than their American allies for the first time since the start of the war.
The stark finding marks a "watershed" for British involvement in the conflict, it is claimed, and has led to calls for the Government to set an immediate timetable for withdrawal from the war-torn country.
Prof Sheila Bird, the vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society, analysed British and American fatalities from May 2006 to June 2007, and found that the death rate of British troops has now surpassed that of Americans, following a sustained upsurge of violence in the southern city of Basra.
Britain has 5,500 troops serving in Iraq, and suffered 23 fatalities between February 5 and June 24. The US has 165,000, and lost 463 over the same period.
One of the Army's most senior commanders told The Sunday Telegraph that the war in Iraq was now regarded by political and military chiefs within the Ministry of Defence as "a lost cause".
The officer added that Britain and America had to accept they were facing the possibility of "strategic failure" in Iraq.
It is now widely accepted in the higher echelons of the military that the Prime Minister will ask Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, to start withdrawing British troops by spring 2008.
Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP and a former infantry commander, said: "These death rate figures mark a watershed in the misfortunes of our gallant men in Iraq. These findings will exert further pressure on the political process to decide just how quickly are troops are withdrawn."
Theresa Thompson, whose 21-year-old son Kevin was killed in May, said: "The time has come for our troops to come home. There is nothing to be gained from any more of our young men dying in a pointless war."
Last night, the Iraq Commission, a body set up by the Foreign Policy Centre, a think tank, under the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, called for Britain's military objectives to be "refocused" to provide a "clear exit strategy".
The commission said Britain should cease "offensive military operations" in Iraq and concentrate on training Iraqi security forces. "When this has been done we can withdraw the troops," it reported.
Prof Bird analysed the three 140-day periods from May 2006 to June 2007, taking account of the reduction in British troop numbers in Iraq from 7,000 to 5,500. In the first period, 12 British servicemen were killed, in the second there were 14 deaths, but in the third period, from February 5 to June 24, the number rose to 23.
In the three weeks since this last period a further six soldiers have been killed.
There were 8.8 deaths "per 1,000 personnel-years" for British troops, whereas the US death rate was 7.3.
She also discovered that the toll from roadside bombs was increasing. The devices now kill more British and American troops than any other type of attack.Prof Bird said: "We should be looking carefully at what is happening to our military because they fight in our name and we should care about what is happening to them."
The upsurge in violence is being blamed on two rival Shia groups in Basra that are vying to fill the power vacuum that will be created when British troops finally leave. They also want the perceived kudos of being able to say they were the ones who ousted the British.
An MoD spokesman said: "It is too simplistic to try to compare losses from year to year, or to view losses over a six-month period and try to extrapolate meaningful conclusions for the future."
The spokesman said that Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb, the deputy commander of the Iraqi Multi-National Force, was alluding to one of the factors that would affect casualty rates when he said in a BBC interview last week that "UK troops are doubling our strike rates against the militias. We've doubled our arrests and as a result we've also increased our casualty rate."