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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 December 2006, 18:19 GMT
Back troops, says UK Iraq general
Maj Gen Richard Shirreff with Tony Blair
Maj Gen Shirreff welcoming Tony Blair to Basra earlier this month
The head of British forces in southern Iraq has called for national support for soldiers serving in the country.

Issues such as underfunding had to be addressed to maintain their quality of work, Maj Gen Richard Shirreff said.

His comments, made to the BBC's Kate Silverton, came after troops complained of "running on empty" in Iraq. The MoD said spending had risen steadily.

Meanwhile, seven British soldiers on patrol in northern Basra suffered minor injuries when a roadside bomb exploded.

'Relative neglect'

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said there had been "a number" of armoured vehicles in the patrol when an improvised explosive device exploded.

She said the injured were checked over by medics, but nobody was admitted to hospital.

In his comments to our correspondent, Maj Gen Shirreff said: "The nation needs to understand that the quality work done by these courageous men and women out here only happens and can only continue if... our soldiers are properly supported back home in terms of the support for training, infrastructure, barracks, accommodation."

This is Iraq, this is Arabia and this is reality, so a 60% solution is good enough for me
Major General Richard Shirreff

"Some of these issues need solving," he said, adding that many were "the result of a generation of underfunding and relative neglect".

However, Maj Gen Shirreff made it clear that he felt the problems related to a general malaise, rather than ones relating to governance.

"I don't blame any particular party or government, I think this is a general issue," he said.

"There's a whole range of areas - it's not just the sharp end here."

Maj Gen Shirreff referred to a "military covenant between the nation and its soldiers", which he said was now "seriously out of kilter".

'Completely unrepentant'

And, suggesting that British ambitions in Iraq had been scaled back, he went on: "Clearly I would love a 100% solution.

"When I came up here and initiated the operations we have been conducting, I was looking for a 100% solution.

"But this is Iraq, this is Arabia and this is reality, so a 60% solution is good enough for me."

Maj Gen Shirreff also referred to the demolition of an Iraqi police station as a turning point in the battle with Basra's death squads.

He made it clear that he remained "completely unrepentant" about the Christmas Day operation, despite some criticism from provincial council leaders.

The PM repeatedly assures... the public that the troops have what they need, but we are continuingly told by our military commanders that shortages remain
Liam Fox
Shadow defence secretary

The Ministry of Defence said it had "long recognised" the importance of investing properly in the armed forces at home and abroad.

The defence budget had "steadily risen" by an extra 3.7bn over the last three years, a spokesman said.

He added: "We are constantly investing in new equipment, medical care and accommodation.

"Last year alone, we spent more than 700m on improvements to service housing, announced the introduction of a new 2,240 operational bonus and invested millions more in new equipment, including body armour and armoured vehicles."

'Disingenuous'

But shadow defence secretary Dr Liam Fox said it was time for the government to say "something resembling the truth" about the military's resources.

"The PM repeatedly assures our troops that they can have what they want, assures the public that the troops have what they need, but we are continuingly told by our military commanders that shortages remain," he said.

And Colonel Tim Collins, who was one of the most senior officers in Iraq when the war began in 2003, accused the MoD of being "disingenuous" in arguing defence spending had increased.

Col Collins, who is retired, told the BBC: "Since 2000, before the war on terror officially began, the number of commitments that are facing the army have increased many times over.

"The spending is not keeping pace with what the government requires of the armed forces. It's actually shrinking in real terms."

He added that what Maj Gen Shirreff was highlighting was that "successive governments, in conjunction with senior officers who have collaborated in the reduction in the size of the armed forces, have left the armed forces extremely vulnerable".

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
General Richard Shirreff speaks to the BBC



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