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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December, 2004, 00:26 GMT
Media blamed 'for Iraq attacks'
General Sir Michael Walker
General Walker said reports could have incited Iraqi attacks
The UK's most senior military officer has blamed media coverage on the Black Watch redeployment for attacks which claimed several soldiers' lives.

Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker said the media's coverage may have prompted Iraqi insurgents to attack the soldiers.

He told BBC Two's Newsnight programme attacks were "enhanced" by reports.

Five members of the 850-strong battlegroup died during attacks when they moved closer to Baghdad.

"The contribution towards the initial attacks against the Black Watch was certainly enhanced by, if you like, a media picture that was being laid across a number of channels in all sorts of places," he said.

Bomb attacks

The reports meant "there could well have been a response by those who wished us ill to go and meet us with something like a bomb", he said.

Most of the attacks on the Black Watch happened during the early stages of their redeployment from Basra to near the Iraqi capital, where they relieved US forces preparing for an attack on the city of Falluja.

Black Watch soldiers return to Basra
Black Watch troops have now returned to Basra

They included roadside bombs as well as mortar and small arms attacks on their base at Camp Dogwood.

Gen Walker said: "Certainly the attacks against the Black Watch happened at that stage.

"I'm certain, too, that the media coverage would have made it easier for anybody who wanted to conduct those attacks to do so."

His comments come as debate rages over reporting of military operations in Iraq.

Many reports come from reporters "embedded" with units whose coverage is heavily restricted by military censors.

Gen Walker made clear that he did not expect the Black Watch's tour of duty in central Iraq to have won it a reprieve from the re-structuring of the Army.

We need to get greater flexibility and we need more infantry capability available to be able to conduct the sort of operations we have
General Sir Michael Walker
The overhaul, due to be announced by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon within days, is expected to see Scottish infantry regiments merged into a single large unit.

"There's no doubt that the way that the Army Board have approached the re-organisation is, in my mind, absolutely right," he told Newsnight.

"We need to get greater flexibility and we need more infantry capability available to be able to conduct the sort of operations we have."

Civilian deaths

He declined to give a timetable for British withdrawal from Iraq, saying only: "In real terms, we know we must stay engaged there for as long as necessary for us to be able to hand off as much of the security apparatus (as possible) to the Iraqi security forces."

Gen Walker also rejected estimates, published in The Lancet, that around 98,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war and occupation.

"I don't think we can put any credibility on that study in straight terms," he said.

"The difficulty with casualties, particularly when they are not your own casualties and are members of the civilian population or the anti-coalition forces is that we don't control the casualty evacuation, so one will never quite know what the figures are."

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